Michelle Obama and Art World Royalty Fête the New Whitney in a Star-Studded Ceremony

  • April 30, 2015: The sun was shining, the magnolias were blooming and I headed down to the corner of Gansevoort and West Streets with strict instructions to arrive between 9 and 9:50 AM because of strict security measures in place for First Lady Michelle Obama.

    At 9:15 I was the first to arrive. But that meant I got one of the best chairs in the reserved section, right on the aisle. It wasn’t until after 10 that guests started dribbling in. But what an array of the art world: Architect Renzo Piano, Curators Carter Foster, Donna De Salvo, Scott Rothkopf and Barbara Haskell; Artists Alex Katz, Glenn Ligon (with Harlem Museum Director Thelma Golden), Lawrence Weinerand Fred Wilson (each of whom is represented in the inaugural exhibition), top art critics: Peter Schjeldahl (The New Yorker) Jerry Saltz (New York magazine), as well as both Holland Cotter and Roberta Smith, the chief art critics for The New York Times.

    Matilda Cuomo, despite the recent death of her husband, Governor Mario Cuomo, was smiling ear to ear and greeting everyone. Other bigwigs: Senator Brad Hoylman, representing the 27th District in Albany; and Tom Finkelpearl, New York City’s Cultural Commissioner.

    My seatmate was Scott Newman, one of the executive architects on the new building. “I’ve been working on this project for eleven years,” he told me. We (Cooper Robertson) were Piano’s local architects in New York. It was a bold decision to move down here to the meatpacking district.”

    Across from me, Tommy Tune and his friend Jeanne Donovan Fisher from Love Productions. I recently saw Tommy appear in the Encores production “Lady, Be Good” and he stole the show. (but then that’s why he has won nine Tony awards and will be honored for life-time achievement at this year’s Tony’s). The 76-year-old wunderkind will be heading to Chicago in July to perform in “Taps, Tunes” and Tall Tales.” But not before he fulfills three engagements in New York.

    MIchelle Obama was greeted with great applause, before and after her brief remarks, the essence of which was reflected in a single sentence:

    “The arts are not just a nice thing to have—they define us as people.”

    (All photos: Jill Krementz)

  • Flora Miller Biddle welcomes the First Lady to the podium. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Adam Weinberg and First Lady Michelle Obama. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • The Dedication Ceremony begins with Robert Hurst, Brooke Garber Neidich and Neil Bluhm wlecoming The First Lady, Michelle Obama, to New York City. Mrs. Obama is seated between Adam Weinberg and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Donna De Salvo, Whitney's chief curator and associate director (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Architect Scott Newman (my seat mate) and Curator Scott Rothkopf (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Roberta Smith of the New York Times (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Jerry Saltz (New York Magazine) and Peter Schjeldahl (New Yorker Magazine) (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Matilda Cuomo and Emily Fisher Landau, the philanthropist and art collector. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Architect Renzo Piano. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • NY Cultural Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Arianna Huffington air kissing Laurie Tisch.(Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Artist Alex Katz with Holland Cotter (New York Times). (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Whitney Curator Carter E. Foster with patron Laurie Tisch. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Artist Fred Wilson. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Artist Lawrence Weiner with Irma Guistino Weiss. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Afer the ceremony, Adam Weinberg and Robert Hurst welcomed visitors to the lobby, where champagne was served. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Artist Glenn Ligon. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • A round of applause from Glenn Ligon, Thelma Golden and Laurie Tisch after the first lady's talk. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • Tommy Tune with Joel Shapiro's Dancer. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

  • First Lady Michelle Obama. (Photo: © Jill Krementz)

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