Whitney Party Wafts Well in Soho

“But this is where I want to go tonight,” a woman in a short, tight dress whined, standing outside the Skylight Soho event space last Wednesday night. “I can go to Costa Rica for $500,” her friend snapped back. As they argued, a group that skewed young and thin streamed by them into the Whitney Art Party.

The front of the house—the former home of the Ace Gallery and recently a popular art gala venue—was an exercise in light, with a bunch of Lite-Brite-style boards arrayed behind the bars. Large black and white paper spheres hung over the main bar, which plied champagne and vodka.

The waiters were eager to distribute the food, the most plentiful items seeming to be shots of pea soup from Acme and fried bready things from the Lion. One server actually left an attendee in a sleek black dress holding her shot glass after she’d downed it, meaning she had to give chase.

The silent auction was a favorite for couples, and it wasn’t an uncommon sight to notice an older man talking, with his eyes and hands, about a work to a younger woman as they made their way to the next one.

That art was priced to sell. Relatively small pieces by young artists, including a number of 2012 Biennial participants, they tended to start around $1,000—a price point that seemed to entice even the youngest patrons, whom the museum is grooming for bigger spending in future years.

Out in back, a spindly silver tree was described to us as something out of Ridley Scott or Stanley Kubrick. An hour into the evening it was the site of a performance by Iona Rozeal Brown, with candles and musky incense.

It started when two people—genders were a bit unclear—emerged from a doorway next to one of the bars. One was in white with a large, puffy headdress and a long train that the other, in black and huge platform shoes, carried as they danced through the space to the tree out back. They vogued and partially disrobed while a mixture of techno and hip-hop played.

“I was personally intrigued by the way she worked smell into the performative equation,” the artist Will Cotton told us after the performance. He worked with smell recently for a short ballet piece for Performa 11 that featured the scent of cotton candy. It’s not an easy medium. “You don’t want it to choke out some people and you don’t want there to be others who can’t even smell it,” he said, but he thought that Ms. Brown nailed it. “I was into the smell.”

The artist Sanford Biggers missed Ms. Brown’s performance but is familiar with her work, from the time the two were in Japan together. “We were both invited to speak in at Doshisha University in Kyoto about our art in relationship to Japanese culture,” he told us. “It was her, me and a brother who does manga and anime who also lived in Japan for a little while who’s also very steeped in that tradition.”

What was the weirdest thing about Japan? “The weirdest thing about it was how many people I found who I got along with very well, very quickly,” Mr. Biggers said. (Which is really not so weird if you have met him.) “They’re good drinkers and they’re cultural geeks, so if they’re into whatever you’re into then you’ll hit it off like gangbusters.”

Mr. Biggers found particular commonality with the robust hip-hop community there, he said. “In the U.S., they would not even let rap groups form because they thought it would cause too much violence and Japan opened its doors and said, ‘Everybody come here,’” he said. “Tupac, Digital Underground. So the way that Europe and America embraced jazz, Japan embraced hip-hop in the early ‘90s.” We hadn’t heard that! “Wu-Tang Clan? Luke Campbell? 2 Live Crew? NWA? They were all banned in the U.S., but Japan opened their arms!” Ever the educator, Professor Biggers! (He teaches at Columbia.)

There was more drinking and eating (the soup shots just kept coming) and after about an hour there was another performance, courtesy of Kalup Linzy. He was burying one of his characters and paying tribute to Donna Summer and Whitney Houston complete with a full band and a great wavy new haircut—a wig actually.

As Mr. Linzy finished his set singing his classic, “Ass Hole,” a white coffin on stage was opened to reveal hundreds of plastic cups filled with realistic flowers made of gelatin. It was a project organized by the Kreëmart, the group run by dessert-art impresario Raphael Castoriano.

Then everybody tried to go to the club that’s being called the new Bungalow 8, a few blocks away.

“I am on the Whitney board,” said a blonde woman in a spangly dress.

“But this is not the official after-party, I don’t know where everybody got that idea,” said the woman with an iPad at the door. “You’re on the board?”

“Well, I’m with Hannah Bronfman.”

“But she’s already in there.”

The glitzy woman, like almost everybody else, did not get in.


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