Museum Pieces: Luxury Diamond Boutique Leviev Hosts Luncheon For The Jewish Museum

Debi Wisch

It was a sad, socked-in, cotton-gray day, the kind best suited to a good read, a cup of tea and a cashmere throw. As the rain began to fall, we picked up our pace down Madison Avenue, whose limestone facades seemed bleak and washed out on this dreary half-lit afternoon. We were in search of the Leviev boutique and, finding the glass doors, we tramped inside with damp hair and damper spirits.
Inside, a different world unfolded. A group of elegant women had gathered in the jewelry boutique, sipping bubbly and basking in the diamonds’ brilliant gleam. The ladies seemed less interested in the gems than each other’s company, enthusiastically greeting one another and discussing exotic holiday vacations as the be-carated cuffs, collars and circlets quietly lorded over the scene under lock and key in glass show boxes. Champagne fizzed as friends clinked glasses, toasting 2012 with twinkling exuberance and wide smiles. As if through some sort of magical atmospheric osmosis, our mood immediately lifted.
The Champagne reception was a far cry from the all-too-common starched society events with forced salutations and upright introductions. Everyone at the boutique knew one another or was promptly introduced by the assiduous hostess, Debi Wisch. The brigade of well-wishing women had assembled to support the Jewish Museum and welcome the institution’s new director, Claudia Gould. Friends of Ms. Wisch’s, supporters of the museum, acquaintances of Ms. Gould and a collection of art aficionados constituted the crowd.
After taking stock of the jewelry, The Observer spoke to Leviev’s executive vice president, Lisa Klein. Leviev, Ms. Klein explained, underwrites the museum’s beloved art tours. Through the program, New Yorkers with established art collections open their homes for a series of guided tours coordinated through the Jewish Museum. (A fine art-inclined busybody’s delight!) The haute stone company has endeavored to support the museum, Ms. Klein said, and decided to host the luncheon in honor of Ms. Gould’s recent appointment. “No one ever complains having fabulous diamonds and Champagne lunch. You couldn’t ask for a nicer ambiance,” she said surveying the room.
From across the boutique, we spotted Stacey Bronfman, who has worked with the art tours program for several years. Curious, we asked Ms. Bronfman how she first got involved with the museum. “I mean my family has been involved for years. The Bronfmans,” she explained. “But I really got involved because I went on an incredible art tour and was asked to chair it,” she said. Too well-versed in cocktail party civility, Ms. Bronfman declined to identify her favorite home of the tour. Last year, however, she said, had been a huge success with former MoMA director Agnes Gund’s home on the program, as well as the art-filled abodes of Donny Deutsch.
Convincing people to open their homes for the tour, Ms. Bronfman said, was the most difficult part of her job. “Some people are very shy.” She has been able to persuade collectors with unfailing democratic dogmas, however. “If you really an art patron you’ve got to be able to share the art.”
As Ms. Klein was working to usher the crowd upstairs for lunch, The Observer noticed gallerist Christine Wächter-Campbell, whose home had been featured on one such art tour. “It was a very a new experience!” she said gaily. “We had recently renovated the house, which was good, but that was also my concern: having a lot of Louboutin heels, you know, go across my white floor,” she said. On the whole, however, the experience had been a positive one. “It filled me with this tremendous sense of pride,” Ms. Wächter-Campbell explained. We asked her if she had a favorite piece in her own collection, a piece, perhaps, she was most excited to show the world. “I sure do,” she said. “It’s an Andy Warhol Mao”
Upstairs, the space had been transformed by apt eventeers to an intimate dining room appropriate for the art-savvy crowd. Tables were covered with draping, silver fabric with ruched flowers. “It’s so tactile!” one guest marveled, stroking the sumptuous cloth. Another noted the floral arrangements. “It’s so artistic! They look just like the flowers at the George V in Paris!” she exclaimed. (We thought so too.)
Taking our seat, we found ourselves amid a lively conversation about winter vacations.  With small contrite bites, ladies indulged in rosemary flatbread as they shared holiday stories. Ms. Bronfman bemoaned the high winds in St. Bart’s, which hampered her family’s sailing plans, while another guest explained that the Four Seasons in Hawaii had been absolutely idyllic at Christmastime.
On a far table a Champagne glass was upset, causing a momentary silence. The ruched-rose tablecloth, however, seemed to be at fault, not a tipsy guest. Soon, a delicate lunch befitting the bejeweled environs was served. Tripartite plates offered a cob salad with avocados and faux-bacon (the meal was kosher, of course), miniature chicken breasts and tufts of lettuce artfully encased in a baked crouton hollow.
Ms. Gould stood up and said a few words about her background and her hopes for the museum. Representing a revitalized future for the institution, Ms. Gould expressed her desire to bolster the Jewish Museum’s foothold in the contemporary art world, creating a space for living artists to share and discuss their work. After Ms. Gould, renowned artist Izhar Patkin answered questions, discussing the significance of contemporary art today.
After lunch, an embarrassment of rich confections was paraded through the tables. Mango creamsicles, chocolate ganache, crépes suzette, chocolate tarts with gold leaf relish, mini-French toast ’smores and butter cookies were all savored by the group.
During the dessert course, we spoke with Mr. Patkin as he ogled an extravagant diamond necklace. “That’s a lot of diamonds. That’s not Swarovski,” he said with a laugh. He explained how his dear friend and patron Holly Solomon (also a Warhol muse) was wont to wear similar pieces around the city in the ’70s and ’80s. When a friend cautioned her against wearing such profusive jewels in public for safety’s sake, Ms. Solomon said, “Well, would you rather me get killed for a fake?” Laughing, the surrounding crowd began to depart.
Finally finished with her hostess duties, Debi Wisch had a chance to chat. “I think to honor the past and then move forward with a vengeance,” she said, explaining her goals for the Jewish Museum. “It has this wonderful tradition to build on, but we need to make it relevant for people today. We were corked and now we’re uncorked.”
eknutsen@observer.com

Museum Pieces: Luxury Diamond Boutique Leviev Hosts Luncheon For The Jewish Museum