A good party is all about the mix and Sotheby’s had it just right at its Take Home a Nude Party on Monday night. Flamboyant artists in leather jackets and pearl necklaces mingled well with society beauties in designer dresses and vertiginous heels. Unusually for a Monday night uptown, the drink of choice for the evening was tequila.
Waiters with trays of pungent cocktails worked their way through the packed space, offering the stiff drinks to the gasping guests. The room was filled with artwork, all set to be auctioned off throughout the evening to benefit the New York Academy of Art.
A colorful array of supporters was filling the room. Supporters of the Academy both young and old turned out for the auction, etching their names on bidding sheets around the room. Arden Wohl, Diana Taylor, Andre Balazs, Joanne Herring, Fabiola Beracasa, Cynthia Rowley, Glenda Bailey and Heather Mnuchin all walked around the space with the friendly formality that philanthropic endeavors tend to inspire.
Soon a barrage of flashbulbs announced the arrival of celebrity chef and Salman Rushdie ex Padma Lakshmi, who appeared appropriately statuesque in a short black dress, her hair pulled back to reveal a plunging neckline. Not long after, diminutive starlet Mary Kate Olsen entered the room. Wearing a long, shapeless, silk number and letting her long, blond, tresses flow uninhibited, the tiny tycoon was Ms. Lakshmi’s perfect foil.
Eileen Guggenheim, one of the founders of the New York Academy of Art, played hostess throughout the evening. Elegant in a Lanvin dress with Grecian draping, Ms. Guggenheim tirelessly circulated the room, greeting the auction house’s guests warmly and chatting with friends. The Observer asked Ms. Guggenheim what excited her most about the event. “To see people carrying works of art home. That’s the best,” she said with a smile. Ms. Guggenheim explained that she also participates in the auction, albeit clandestinely. “I do it mysteriously because I don’t bid using my name. I have my husband bid,” she divulged.
The silent auction bidding was staggered, with different sections of the room closing before others. Just before 7:30, a disembodied voice announced that bidding on the first section was nearly complete. People rushed to place their bids, pushing past performers on stilts wearing nude body suits and holding signs.
The Observer noticed designer Nicole Miller walking alone through one of the galleries, serenely appraising the artwork. We asked if Miller would be taking home a nude of her own. “I’ve taken home a whole lot of them over the years,” she admitted with a laugh. Ms. Miller, wearing a fitted black dress from her own line, noted that her own background made her particularly keen to support the Academy of Art. “I went to art school. So of course I’m very attached [to the cause]. I did many years of nude drawing myself,” she explained, pausing momentarily. “They called it life drawing, actually,” she said. Ms. Miller explained that it is important to foster arts education for young people. “Anything that broadens your horizons is really important,” she said. “And also expanding people’s worlds when they don’t have that access,” Ms. Miller concluded.
As the silent auction galleries began to close, guests competitively scribbled their bids, standing guard over their favorite pieces and ready to one-up friends and fellow revelers for their preferred pieces. “Take home a nude, dude!” the jaunty voice advised the crowd. “If you like it, buy it!”
Vanity Fair special correspondent and Andy Warhol biographer Bob Colacello was sharing a laugh with fellow guests after the auction when The Observer asked if he had acquired any pieces. “I have too many nudes … at home,” he said chortling. Having learned about the school from Warhol, another of its founders, Mr. Colacello recently became more involved, believing figurative arts must be preserved. “There obviously is a desire on the part of artists and collectors and the public to see the human figure portrayed in new ways,” he said. “And in a way I think that’s a lot harder and more challenging than piling up a bunch of junk in the corner and calling it an installation,” Mr. Colacello added haughtily. Asked what Warhol, his friend and colleague, would have said were he in attendance, Mr. Colacello laughed. “‘Oh, gee, oh, wow, I can’t believe, Mary Kate Olsen is here,’” he replied.
Later, we spotted Maureen Chiquet, Chanel’s global CEO, hovering over a photograph. The Observer asked if she was hoping to add to her art collection. “I’m trying desperately,” she said. “I may take home a live nude,” she added with a chuckle, glancing around the room. We wondered whether, like Ms. Miller, she saw a connection between her work and the Academy. After thinking for a moment, Ms. Chiquet gave a wry smile. “What I do is about beautiful things, and so is this,” she said. “We all love beautiful things,” the bantam businesswoman added before disappearing into the crowd.
The crowd had gravitated toward the back of the room where the live auction was set to start. Jeff Koons, Todd Eberle and Patrick Demarchelier were among the artists who had donated their pieces for the charity. Ten works were auctioned off in fast succession to eager buyers. In total the evening raised $800,000.
The auction completed, guests were finishing their drinks and preparing to leave. A fleet of red-shirted staff were on hand, wrapping up the art with astonishing agility. Most of the art had already been taken off the walls and their starkness bore little resemblance to the vibrant scene we witnessed upon arrival. The crowd, well-refreshed and well-heeled, took a final lap around the room. For a night in October, The Observer was impressed with the guests’ vitality. We left Sotheby’s, glad to have experienced the spirited Nude night for ourselves.
Padma Lakshmi and Eileen Guggenheim
Fabiola Beracasa and Mary Kate Olsen
Elizabeth Strong Cuevas and Peter Marino