Phillips Auctioneers’ Makeover in Progress

It was the evening before the first round of Phillips Auctioneers’ Impressionist and Modern Art Sale, and the formerly crusty English house was doing some major repositioning, aggressively flexing the chic social and financial muscle it’s been given by its new owner, French luxury conglomerate LVMH. It was only last May that the freshly pumped-up challenger house, eager to benefit from the Christie’s-Sotheby’s antitrust fiasco, had made the uncharacteristically flashy gesture (for the auction world) of flying in Jade Jagger to host a pre-sale party for her celebu-pals at Asia de Cuba and asking Sharon Stone to lend some Hollywood glamour to the first sale. Perhaps the attendees were too star-struck (or hung over) to bid, because 40 percent of the art went unsold. So this time around, the graying John House, a respectable professor of art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, would be the star of the evening (which was to total a disappointing $32.6 million, well below the $39.5 million to $54.1 million expected; the second sale brought in only $922,200–far below the $5,186,000 catalog estimate).

Standing in front of a Christopher Wool canvas that bore the words “If You Can’t Get the Joke Get the Fuck out of My House” (estimated price: $150,000 to $200,000), the distinguished professor contextualized Manet’s “Bar at the Folies-Bergère” for a crowd of nodding collectors. After Mr. House was asked the customary post-lecture questions (“How important was the invention of tube paint?”), Carroll Petrie, Gerald Posner and other guests were tucked into minivans and shuttled over to the Magic Room on the 24th floor of LVMH’s 57th Street tower for a dinner honoring Courtauld. Thanks to last-minute cancellations (the Saturday Night Live election special, perhaps), some diners had the good fortune of digging into their absentee neighbors’ pot-au-feu after they’d polished off their own.

Deserting connoisseurs couldn’t dampen the high spirits of Katell le Bourhis, Mr. Arnault’s style adviser and a former curator, under Diana Vreeland, of the Met’s Costume Institute, who was recently commissioned to rebrand the 200-year-old auction house best known for hawking dusty English estates. Dressed in a mauve Galliano number and toting a purple Christian Dior bag, Ms. le Bourhis buzzed around the room, greeting guests and cooing about Phillips’ new home–a 12-story Art Deco building “just behind Bergdorf Goodman!”–that was to be announced the next day. What did she think, The Transom wondered, of the eerie similarity between the ads her house and Christie’s had placed in The New York Times the previous week, earning them a few lines in that day’s New York Post ?

“They copied us,” Ms. le Bourhis explained in her native French, wagging her finger and shaking her black bob. “We are the small ones, but they’re scared of us. And it makes us very happy–it means we exist.” Not that The Transom doubted Phillips’ existence, but how did she view the upcoming battle? “It’s a game,” she said with a smile. “Competition is a game.” Then, switching to English, she added: “Christie’s is on a very good run for a New York marathon. And we love that competition. We just looove competition. Get ready: We know how to entertain, how to do graphics. They better … they better get their act together, ha ha!” And then, as waiters brought around more drinks, Ms. le Bourhis shot out her left arm. “Champagne? J’adore! Encore! ”

– Elisabeth Franck

Moby and Bebe Talk Undies

“I’m telling you,” said a middle-aged man scanning the lively, dark-suited crowd, “if I were gay, this’d be a smorgasbord! There really are some good-looking people here.…”

“It’s a sea of men!” commented a young flack for the event, who was weaving her way through the cocktail party. Lemon martinis went round, and spirits were high. The Hetrick-Martin Institute’s Emery Awards night–held to honor those dear to the nonprofit agency for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth–was in full swing at Chelsea’s Metropolitan Pavilion the night before Election Day.

After a while, the crowd, almost 600 strong, re-situated to the adjoining banquet hall so the ceremonies could commence. Corey Johnson, who usually wears New Balance running shoes, was gliding about in his brand-new Prada loafers, his mom in tow. At 18, Mr. Johnson is a relative newcomer to “the sisterhood.” The co-captain of Masconomet High School’s football team had recently come out of the closet and was being awarded for leadership on behalf of lesbian and gay youth.

A short video was shown featuring Mr. Johnson amid the bleak, locker-lined halls of his high school and some of his beefy, Boston-accented fellow footballers. Up at the podium, Wilson Cruz–sexually confused star of My So-Called Life , who was co-hosting the evening with Bebe Neuwirth–was driven to tears by the production. “Oh! I’m such a drama queen!” squealed the actor as he wiped his eyes. “That’s what my husband says: ‘Wilson’s crying. Get out the mop!'”

But the night’s star attraction, as far as The Transom was concerned, was to be the elusive Billie Bean, who, according to the tip sheet, was supposed to be making an appearance. The Transom had been scouting for the little green rapping spokeslegume, who spreads the word of the plant kingdom for an Australian nutrition initiative. But in fact it was Bill y Bean, the former major-league baseball player, who took the stage to present the award. In an earnest (if droning) speech, he told the story of his coming out, his riff meandering in and out of the crags of his memory. The audience graciously let him let it flow. But one gentleman, who had finished his fish dinner, rolled his eyes at his friend. The two of them put their napkins on their chairs and, in the true spirit of awards-dinner attendees, sidled out of the hall, Prada loafers squeaking.

When ABC News correspondent Anderson Cooper took his turn at the podium, he yelled into the mike: “I’ve never seen a room full of so many Prada suits! It’s amazing!” And indeed it was. But apparently not everyone in the house was wearing Prada–Moby, for one. At his table near the stage, the hairless (and straight) mensch, who was there to present an award to gay-friendly Teen People, could be seen sporting a charcoal pinstripe suit and a neat tie, standing calmly expressionless. “What do you think about wearing Versace in general?” The Transom wanted to know. “It’s free,” Moby explained in his kind monotone, “and it doesn’t really concern me one way or another, because I’m such a schlump in my daily life. I don’t really care about how I present myself sartorially, so if people want to give me free clothes that are fancy, I’ll gladly wear them.” The Transom would have given Moby fancy free clothes had that been possible, but more immediately, it wanted the lowdown on Moby’s suit. “Oh, it’s all Versace stuff,” he explained.

“All Versace? Your tie? Your underwear?” The Transom wanted to be absolutely sure.

“No, the underwear I bought at a truck stop in Texas. I think it was the Flying J outside of El Paso. When you go on tour, you understand Flying J,” said the musician, who’s been hoofing about the world for the last 18 months.

Bebe Neuwirth, who was co-hosting along with Mr. Cruz, wasn’t in such a spunky mood. Perhaps it had something to do with Deadline being canceled after just five episodes; perhaps she was anxious because the event was running a bit behind schedule; perhaps she was cranky because, earlier this autumn, she received the honor of being voted one of the worst-dressed stars by People . Possibly in retaliation for Sisqó’s remark that “she’s trying to send our minds into a frenzy by wearing too many things at once,” Ms. Neuwirth had played it safe for the evening: She was simply attired in a plain black evening dress and a pair of tasteful red shoes. Backstage, The Transom took the opportunity to ask the edgy actress which single item of clothing she believed said the most about a person. “I … I … I don’t know.” She considered for a moment. “I don’t know the answer to that,” she said with finality. The Transom understood and was happy to leave it at that, but suddenly, as Ms. Neuwirth rose up out of her chair, something clicked. “Maybe their underwear!” she announced, shrugging theatrically; then she marched onto the stage to proceed with the business at hand with at least one fellow presenter who was, unbeknownst to her, comfortably clad in truck-stop unmentionables.

– Beth Broome

The Whitney’s Depression Party

On the evening of Nov. 6, as Anne Bass and Nina Griscom were making their entrance on the zebra print carpet of “Club Whitney,” the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1930’s-themed gala, artist Chuck Close could be found in the lobby in his wheelchair, next to a group of models who were dressed as flappers to provide “atmosphere” for the arriving guests. To a curious passerby who peered through the Madison Avenue window, the girls seemed like “a prelude to an orgy.” To the black-clad artist inside, however, it felt more like the prelude to an election. “I hope this doesn’t signal a real depression starting tomorrow,” he said of the Edward Steichen-inspired night. “That’s my big fear: We could go into the toilet.”

As the flappers dragged beret-wearing star stylist Phillip Bloch into a photo op despite his screams of “No! No! I’m camera shy!”, Mr. Close added that he had done his bit to bolster the Democratic war chest. “I’ll tell you, artists raised three and a half million dollars for Gore and a million-eight for Hillary. So we’re putting our art where our mouth is.” But despite his good-natured smile, Mr. Close seemed squeamish about the next day’s outcome. How scared was he of a Republican tidal wave? ” Whoaaaugh !” he said, sounding like he’d just stepped off the sinking Titanic . “I’m scared sick. I think Hillary will make it, but I’m very worried about someone that dumb being President, and I’m really worried–especially as the father of two daughters–about our women’s right to choose and the Supreme Court. I mean, it’s scary, don’t you think?”

It was unlikely that Mr. Close would get a response from the revelers until after dinner. Diane Von Furstenberg’s first concern, after stepping downstairs to the bar area, was the light emanating from the blue neon tubes crisscrossing the ceiling. “It’s not very flattering,” she said, walking in a cloud of her own perfume, a current project. As for Martha Stewart, who was dressed in gold-sequined trousers and a white angora turtleneck, the whole evening was reminiscent of the fabled nightclub El Morocco. Confused, perhaps, in her chronology, she added, “Yes, it sort of reminds me of El Morocco. In the, um, early 60’s.”

Well, no grounds to worry about a depression there, at least. But what about the day after tomorrow? The Transom asked. “Oh, let’s see,” Ms. Stewart said, with a knowing air and the flick of her wrist. “Let’s see….” As she walked toward the elevators, whisking the guests of Club Whitney upstairs to party like it was 1929, she turned around and threw out another, more ominous “Let’s see!” And with that, she was gone.

– E.F. Phillips Auctioneers’ Makeover in Progress