Life of Pie: The Dia Foundation Gala Was All About Innuendo


At the cocktail hour for the Dia Art Foundation benefit on Monday night, held in the very buildings on West 22nd Street in which Dia will, in a few years time, if all goes according to plan, have its new Manhattan headquarters, The Observer was having a glass of white wine and chatting with an art dealer.

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“Do you think Philippe Vergne will talk about the lawsuit Dia founders Heiner Friedrich and Fariha de Menil Friedrich are bringing against Dia and Sotheby’s to try to stop the sale of artworks from the Dia Foundation at Sotheby’s on Wednesday night?” said the dealer.

“I don’t know,” The Observer said.

We sipped our beverages, lost in private contemplation.

Shortly thereafter, gala attendees took their seats at 30-some tables in the adjacent building. Mr. Vergne, Dia’s director, ascended a small stage and stood before the podium to tell everyone about his new suit.

“Last year I had to wear a wetsuit,” he said, referring to Hurricane Sandy. “And this year I have a new suit.

“One of my trustees sent me an e-mail during the week, and she wrote, ‘When the getting get tough, the tough one gets going.'” (If the trustee hadn’t French-ified the saying, it was Vergne’s doing.) “That’s what we’re doing.”

After thanking his board, staff and wife, Mr. Vergne reminded his audience of his goal of keeping the “idea of Dia” alive, and bringing “change to the institution” and told them about how “Dia is an unfinished project” and “a collection is an unfinished project” and how change can often be “met with resistance, but resistance is only what makes a challenge more interesting.”

“This being said,” he continued in a tone of great consequence, “I think it’s time for me to tell you about…chicken pot pie.  We are going to serve you chicken pot pie tonight…When you come here, and you dress well, and you eat chicken pot pie, you support the art.”

When he was finished, The Observer’s table went back to debating the $389,000 that a painting by 24-year-old artist Lucien Smith had made earlier in the evening at Phillips auction house. A particularly negative review of a high-profile artist’s recent exhibition at a high-profile gallery was shared, on an iPhone, with someone who hadn’t read it yet. Also a topic of conversation: Lady Gaga’s Jeff Koons collaboration from the evening before.

Mr. Vergne, making glad-handing rounds of the tables, arrived at The Observer‘s table, and The Observer asked, Did he have anything to say about the lawsuit that Heiner Friedrich and Fariha de Menil Friedrich were bringing against Dia and Sotheby’s to try to stop the sale of artworks from the Dia Foundation at Sotheby’s on Wednesday night?

“No,” Mr. Vergne said, genially. Then, clutching his lapels, “I have a new suit.”

And with that, he was off.

Today, the lawsuit was withdrawn.

In the slide show above, you will find photographs of people at the gala. There are no photographs of the chicken pot pie.

(Photos courtesy BFA)

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