Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sarasota Social Diary

Kristina Sparasino and Candice Henry at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens annual Orchid Ball.
By Geraldine Fabrikant

The tickets were sold out months before Sarasota's Marie Selby Botanical Gardens held its annual Orchid Ball, in celebration of its 40th anniversary. The garden, under the new leadership of Jennifer Rominiecki, who trained at the New York Botanical Garden, has been creating terrific buzz in a town where a host of top rate arts institutions vie for attention.

The competition for cultural attention is tough in Sarasota—where the ballet has elicited rave reviews from New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay, the opera has mounted the entire Verdi oeuvre over a 28-year period, and the Asolo theatre is opening "Josephine," the story of singer Josephine Baker, with hopes of bringing it to Broadway. Meanwhile the Ringling museum just unveiled its new Asian wing—a jewel of a building sheathed in green tiles—designed by architect Rudolfo Machado. ("I wanted it to look like a jade jewel box," the architect said of his creation.)

At the Selby Botanical Garden Ms. Rominiecki had already garnered local headlines when she announced that the Israel Museum would lend the garden Marc Chagall's "The Lovers" and that it would use the painting as a centerpiece for a show next year that will offer a view of the botanical life on French Riviera that inspired the artist who spent the last years of his life in St. Paul de Vence.
Models Virginia Graham and Mimoza Nicaj (models from The Met, a local fashion house) helped decorate the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Orchid Ball.
While the Chagall display is still a year away, the prospect of the orchid show helped prompt record ticket sales for the Orchid Ball that raised $450,000 for the Garden.

Guests first promenaded through the greenhouse that had been closed for a week to help assemble three living walls of orchids.

The Met, a local fashion house that had helped underwrite the evening, had three models dressed: two in vintage—and clingy—Herve Leger and a third in Marchesa posed before the orchid displays. Not only did their dresses attract attention, but the models were wearing elaborate headpieces of orchids.
Irene and Mason Brooks.
Michael Evers and Pamela Hughes.
Tina Hallak and Martin Wilhelm in the Fern Garden.
Many show-stopping orchids and bromeliads are housed in the Conservatory at Selby Gardens.
The garden was transformed into a sprawling living room complete with sofas, chairs and cocktail tables, but the guests were too busy looking at the flowers—and each other—to sit still. Among those dining at tables lush with orchids, were local real estate powerhouse Michael Saunders, Senator Verne Buchanan and his wife Sandy, Representative Greg Steube and his wife Jennifer, Anne and Robert Essner (he is the former chief executive of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals), and Selby Garden's board chairman Emily Walsh. The three co-chairwomen were Liebe Gamble, Rochelle Nigri and Kara Saunders, the daughter-in-law of Michael Saunders.
Cocktails in Banyan Grove.
Liebe Gamble, Kara Saunders, and Rochelle Nigri.
Jennifer and Rob Rominiecki.
Gary and Paula Daniel.
Rogan Donnelly and Jennifer Leigh Fabrick. David and Jacqueline Morton.
Dinner under a tent in Banyan Grove.
The root system of one of several banyan trees, which were planted by the Selbys nearly a century ago.
Of course for all directors of cultural institutions, the real metric is attendance and two days after the benefit, an ebullient Ms. Rominiecki reported that on opening day the orchid show lured 1,600 visitors.

The garden was the creation of Marie Selby, whose husband William, made his fortune in the oil business. When she died in 1971, her home and the surrounding acreage became Selby Gardens which she funded with a $2 million endowment.
The Conservatory at Selby Gardens the next day.
The Selbys, like John Ringling, hailed from the midwest. It was Mr. Ringing who really put Sarasota on the social and cultural map when he brought his circus to winter there and built the Ringling Museum to house his art collection.

The Ringlings and Selbys helped create an active cultural world, but where John Ringling died virtually broke in 1936, his fortune gutted by the depression, the Selbys left a foundation to which they had already given $19.5 million by the time Marie Selby died in 1971. Today that endowment is worth $70 million, after having given away $130 million to a wide array of institutions in the Sarasota area.

Sarah Pappas, the president of the Selby Foundation, explained that to me several nights later as she strolled through the new Asian wing at the Ringling which had benefited from a $250,000 gift from the foundation.
The Center for Asian Art in the Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art at the Ringling Museum.
The gallery was opened before 260 guests who enjoyed cocktails on the lawn of the Ringling that overlooks Sarasota Bay. Unlike many urban museums that are constrained by space, the Ringling sits on 66 acres and includes the Ringlings' former home Ca d'Zan, as well as extraordinary circus museum that contained a 3800 square foot miniature circus created by Howard Tibbels, a much loved Ringling board member who was in attendance with his wife Janice. Because Mr. Tibbels has long been obsessed with his miniature circus, the Ringling made a movie about its creation. In it, Mrs. Tibbels, who had not been married to her husband for very long at that time, is shown telling her mother during a phone conversation: "I can't believe I married a man who loves to work with dolls as much as I do."
Janice and Howard Tibbals.
Steven High, the museum's director, welcomed the guests who then explored the new galleries. But the opening was not without drama of its own. Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt, who gave the lead gift of $4.1 million to create the Asian Center, had withdrawn a promised donation of 1700 Asian works and is suing the museum alleging that the building project took too long to complete.
Fan Zhang, Rodolfo Machado, and Steven High.
Partly as a result the galleries are not entirely filled. Nevertheless they house pieces from the Ira and Nancy Koger collection of Chinese ceramics largely comprising blanc de chine pieces, examples of Cypriot art that the Ringling acquired decades ago from the Luigi Palma di Cesnola collection: the other half of which is housed at the Metropolitan Museum wher Mr. di Cesnola was its first director. There were also works borrowed from museums across the country. Dr. Fan Zhang, the curator in charge of Asian Art, noted that Mr. Ringling had only begun collecting works from the Far East ashortly before he died and the museum has been building on the collection since then.
Lion Dance by Distance Matters.
To wet local interest in Asian arts, the museum's exhibits have recently tilted toward the East. Late last year, curator Dr. Zhang assembled the superb Royal Taste: the Art of Princely Courts in 15th Century China, an exhibition of works from four museums in the Hubei Provence of China that showcased the artistic development by the princes of the Ming Dynasty. (Sent away from the centers of power to insure they did not challenge the emperor, the Ming princes established courts in remote provinces where they invested vast sums in the arts. In their work rooms, artisans created gold pieces: hairpins set with gems, bronze statues, porcelains and scroll paintings.)
Pillow with Paired Mandarin ducks on Pearl-Stamped Ground, China, Northern Song period (960-1127), 11th century, Stoneware, Cizhou ware, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David W. Davenport, 2015.
After guests toured the new building, they dined under a tent on the Ringling lawn on an Asian themed meal that included miso marinated black cod over sesame noodles. The Asian themed centerpieces were of Cremona mums and hot pink roses.
Table centerpiece by Flowers by Fudgie.
In his speech during dinner, Mr. Machado explained that the twice glazed tiles were made in Buffalo, New York and inspired by Asian objects. Among those listening were George Ellis, former director of the Honolulu museum, Matthew Edlund, who has his own extensive collection of Chinese scrolls, board member Tom Luzier, a real estate lawyer, and his wife Allison, Warren and Margot Coville, and board member Larry Wickless with his wife Carol Crosby. When it comes to collecting, the Covilles go their own ways: he has amassed a collection of 3500 photographs, largely in the field of photojournalism. Mrs. Coville collects modern studio glass.
Judy Shank. Larry Winkless.
Margot and Warren Coville.
Judy Rudges and friend. Jane Skogstad.
The new Cutler Coville Glass Pavilion at the Ringing will open in May. It will cap a hectic social season that started with a gala for the benefit of the Sarasota Orchestra at van Wezel Hall, in an event where Renée Fleming charmed the crowd with a mélange of opera, pop and even a musical version of a piece by the writer James Agee. Just two nights later, Joshua Bell took the stage with a program of classical music. Meanwhile ticket demand was so high to see the Sarasota Ballet's trio of ballets including Balanchine's Emeralds, that the company had to add two more performances to its scheduled six shows in February.

But social action was high not just on the West Coast of Florida, but on the East Coast as well. That same weekend antiquities collector Shelby White was hosting the preview of the Patricia and Philip Frost Museum's showing of the Lod Mosaic, a 70-foot-long Roman mosaic that has already been on display at the Metropolitan Museum, the Louvre, the Hermitage, the Altes Museum in Berlin and Sir Jacob Rothschild's Waddesdon Manor. The three-day expedition was aimed at showcasing the work of the Israel Antiquities Authority which supervises Israeli archeology. Among the guests were landscape architect Raymond Jungles, Lucy Lamphere and John Leboutiller, Max Blumberg and Eduardo Araujo, Diana Brandt, Sharon Moissaleiff and Susan Weber, director of the Bard Graduate Center of Decorative Arts, with her husband Daniel Ryniec.
A luncheon at Viscaya following the opening at the Frost Museum.
Shelby White.
Shelby White with Max Blumberg.
Lucy Lamphere.
The opening at the Frost Museum was followed by a lunch at Viscaya and a private dinner at the glamorous penthouse apartment of Jeanie and Jay Schottenstein.
Jeanie Schottenstein. Patricia Frost.
Daniel Ryniec, Susan Weber, and Max Blumberg.
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