A Perfect Storm of Art and Experimentation Descends on the Watermill Center

This year's Annual Summer Benefit, titled "the BODY," didn't let anything rain on its parade of artistic expression—even the rain itself.

There’s nothing more terrifying for outdoor event planners than rain, the ultimate harbinger of open-air-gala gloom. This past weekend, renowned interdisciplinary arts laboratory The Watermill Center experienced the nightmare firsthand during its Annual Summer Benefitexcept the nightmare wasn’t a nightmare at all.

A dark stage with a crowd of people lit in blue and a strange mask on the upper right.
Robert Wilson, UBU. Maria Baranova

Amidst the downpour, keen-eared attendees could make out the voice of Watermill Artistic Director Robert Wilson rising above the pounding deluge, excitedly declaring “It is perfect!” As Wilson watched the newspaper-covered set of his once-in-a-lifetime performance of “Ubu” become waterlogged, he just grinned wider and shouted, “I came to this area to be closer to nature!”

The sound system sputtered to a stop, but not to worry. Wilson narrated the production live by himself. Rather than detract from the experience, the storm augmented it meaningfullywhat better way for experimental art to surreally mirror modern life than to make use of extremely unexpected puddles as literal pools of reflection? As they say, the show must go on.

A shirtless woman rubs her torso and chest against a large melting chunk of ice on the floor.
Leah Marojević performing Ola Maciejewska’s The Second Body. Maria Baranova Suzuki

The 2023 Watermill Center Annual Summer Benefit celebrated not only The Watermill Center but also the body’s role in the creation of art, as well as artistic experimentation in general. Entitled “the BODY,” the benefit—long a staple on the high society aesthete’s Hamptons summer calendar—pulled out all the stops.

Luckily, unlike Wilson’s nighttime production of “Ubu,” most of the Benefit’s programming did not fall prey to the whims of Mother Nature. Prominent performance artist and poet Regina José Galindo sat passively inside a police cruiser while it was being dismantled by a team of a dozen mechanics, not even flinching when literal sparks began to fly, in her show-stopping “SIREN” performance; Leah Marojević melted large ice sculptures across her naked torso in her performance of Ola Maciejewska’s “The Second Body;” and the sonatas and partitas of Bach resonated throughout the Center in a live performance by Grammy award-winning violinist Jennifer Koh. The titular exhibition, made up of works from twenty-three of The Watermill Center’s summer Artists-in-Residence and curated by Noah Khoshbin, was presented by Van Cleef & Arpels in honor of American artist Simone Forti and the late philanthropist Baroness Nina von Maltzhan.

A woman with pink hair and bare feet playing the violin in a room filled with sculptures, pillows, and strewn flowers across the floor.
Jennifer Koh, “Bach: Selections From Six Solo Sonatas and Partitas for Violin.” Maria Baranova

The Benefit’s guest list was unsurprisingly studded with starseveryone from actor Cuba Gooding Jr. to philanthropist Katharine Rayner to Congolese singer-songwriter Young Paris made their way to Water Mill, NY, to celebrate Watermill’s 31st summer.

Two men shake hands and a woman watches.
Cuba Gooding Jr with Claudine De Niro and Robert Wilson. Miguel McSongwe/BFA.com
2023 Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit
Maximilian Eicke, Irina Eicke, Renata Kaczoruk and Kyle Rosko. Getty Images
Five people sitting on a bench.
Guests at The Watermill Center Annual Summer Benefit, including Blythe Danner and Wendy Keys. Miguel McSongwe/BFA.com
A man holding an umbrella in the rain.
Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, PFRANKMD. Miguel McSongwe/BFA.com
2023 Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit
Sophie Chahinian and Robert Longo. Getty Images
Two women and a man standing on lush grass in front of a work of art.
Wendy Keys, Robert Wilson, and Blythe Danner in front of Afra al Dhaheri’s Tangle, Untwist, Rewind – Sweat for Years to Come. Madison McGaw/BFA.com
2023 Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit
Lisa Perry and Richard Perry. Getty Images
Two women in dresses holding up a shawl to protect themselves from the rain.
Gabrielle Bird-Vogel and Taqua Elleithy trying to cover themselves from the rain. Miguel McSongwe/BFA.com
Three women smiling for a photo.
Carolina Sarria, Beth Hutchens, and Anastasia Siro. Miguel McSongwe/BFA.com
A man and a woman dressed in white.
Jacqueline Rene and artist Daniel Arsham. Madison McGaw/BFA.com
Two women sitting and smiling for the camera.
Elia Alba and Coco Fusco. Miguel McSongwe/BFA.com
A woman in a black dress and a man in sunglasses, a green flame decal shirt, and green pants.
Nikki Misraeid and Alex Gvojic. Miguel McSongwe/BFA.com

A Perfect Storm of Art and Experimentation Descends on the Watermill Center