Hot in the City. Just like the weatherman said ...
Arriving at the Watermill Center. Saturday night at 7:45 PM. Photo: JH.

Meanwhile. Back to the Hamptons. On Saturday night we went over the Hampton Designer Showhouse about 7. This year’s was in a lavish new house on Highland Terrace, lent by Burns Development Corporation, just around the corner from where we were staying.

The preview night generates a lot of interest. By the time we arrived there were already hundreds of cars parked in neat rows on what are otherwise fields. The evening was presented by House & Garden to benefit Southampton Hospital. Cathy di Montezemolo and Mildred Brin were Honorary Co-Chairs. Charlotte Moss was Chairman. Mario Buatta was Honorary Gala Chair and Hilary Geary Ross was the Gala Chair. All these Chairs mean ticket sales. They should do well this year, as it’s a great venue for the designers’ exhibitions.

We’ve always tried to cover these showhouses because so many New Yorkers are involved -- designers, architects, business people, and social people. Otherwise I’d probably not get to them because my interest is only in passing. But it is fun to see the elements of luxury, (or more succinctly, money), space, knowledge and imagination actualized in a room.  And now with the addition of the NYSD House to the Diary, and its Decorator Series, I find myself looking around more carefully at the work.

It was a good house for the 30 or so designers because the rooms were large. Even the small rooms had a sense of space. And the ceilings were high. And there lots of windows for an abundance of light.

Books are a big item in many of the rooms this year. Books as ambience. Coffee table books. I love books. It’s close to an obsession. For example, I went through all the books in all the rooms to see if there were any I didn’t know about and might like. Then if I found one, I’d mini-obsess about whether or not I would be able find it in a bookstore or online. Then I wondered if I couldn’t find it and really wanted it, would I steal it? I’d think of taking it it, so I could read it. Borrowing it, of course. But why would anyone lend it under the circumstances? So, in the end I wasn’t going to get it. But These are the kind of stupid things that go through my head when I’m around books.

My obsessions aside, there were probably a lot of obsessive types putting together this showhouse because it was one knock-out of a space after another. I am not one of those, incidentally, who walks into a room and rejects it straight-away because it’s not my taste. For one thing my taste is so conservative, it’s dull. For another, I’m not going to live there anyway. What does fascinate is the diversity and the touches all of which describes personality. This year’s showhouse had a lot of that.

The house itself this year looks like it’s just reached completion with still some work remaining on the grounds where there is a fantastic swimming pool and Jacuzzi as well as a sunken tennis court. I was thinking about all the astounding wealth which surrounds many of us. It seems unreal and yet you’re in the midst of it. Wealth where it often seems like money is no object. And more money is no object. You see enough of this and you can forget that life’s not really like that. Of course I’m reminded as soon as I get into my rented car and drive back to my little apartment in little ole Manhattan.

Saturday night the place was swarming with guests in every room. After a quick look (we were returning on Sunday morning for JH to photograph), I went outside where there was a cocktail party going on.

L. to r.: Cars parked for the beach on Sagg Main Street in Sagaponack; A fresh and trim privet.

This wasn’t one of those lay back and relax weekends although I knew we were going to cover a lot of territory. It’s another obsession that the NYSD has nurtured in me and probably in JH too. Getting material for the Diary.

Not getting out East very often, I found myself getting a kind of a thrill out of all the beauty of the land, as well as the astonishing luxury real estate developments. I remember when so much of it was potato fields for seemingly miles, owned by a few families. A half century ago, there were small towns interspersed. East of Southampton, starting with Bridge, there was a strong sense of an artists and writers community. Capote lived here, as did James Jones and Irwin Shaw, Jackson Pollack, de Koonig, Stella and many many others of such esteem. Since the passing of many of these personages, and the encroachment of well-heeled New Yorkers, whose influence is articulated by, among other things, the showhouses and the mansion they fill, it’s a new world forgetting.

Looking across the cornfield at the guest cars parked for the Hampton Designer Showhouse.
Pulling up to the Craftsman-style showhouse.
L. to r.: Cynthia Frank and Tony Manning; Tom Cashin and Jay Johnson; Eric Cohler.
Isaac with the yellow bandana
Chappy and Melissa Morris
Tom Britt busses Jackie Rogers
Joy Rosenthal
Britt and Rogers anticipate the showhouse traffic
Tiffany Dubin, Robert Stilin, and Bettina Zilkha
Dennis Rolland in his room
Your neighbor's mansions.
Nora Perry, John Kastanis, and Joyce Long
Michael Bailey, Peter Frank, and Tom Lampson
Ed Ulmann and Mario Buatta with Hilary and Wilbur Ross
Eileen Gornacchia, Shannon Donnelley, and Amanda Gornacchia
Gloria Schiff
The DJs
Mother/daughter Anne Pyne and Betty Sherrill
Todd Merrill, Steven Gambrel, Scott Currie, Andrew Ferren, and Julie Bowles
Amanda Nitke and Jennifer Norman
Victoria Lindgren and Robert Rufino
The Frank brothers Brian and James with sister Amanda and mother Cynthia
Gloria Rabinowitz and DPC
Richard Mishaan
Jennifer Powers and Priscilla Ulmann
Andrea and John Stark
Ilene Wetson, Gary Crain, and Marilyn White
The backyard scene
There are still the miles and miles of farmer’s fields. There are still the beaches. The back roads with which the fulltime residents used to avoid the weekend gridlock on Route 27, (still a two-lane blacktop) are now having their own moments of gridlock. There are just more of us. And more of us with the means to get ourselves out to these parts which still hold so much promise for glimpses of peace of mind.

We left about 8:15, going over to the Robert Wilson/ Watermill Center where the Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation was holding its annual fundraising summer benefit. Robert Wilson’s summer party is like no other. The Center is located in what used to be deep woods (and still is woods) on a country road in Water Mill.

When it was purchased about fourteen years ago with the help of financier and art collector and Wilson friend and supporter Asher Edelman, it was a ruin of an old Western Union laboratory building and some acreage (in the woods). For years, its refurbishment, reconstruction actually, progressed slowly. The summer party, always held in a big white tent nearby the building, produced a lot of contributions to urge the project forward. It included a completed building for his “creative laboratory” – a highly personal space for working and live, entertaining and learning. And also a monument to his art organization. From this vantage point, it is basically an artist’s educational facility, pulsating with creative energy.

The Watermill Center which Wilson founded in 1992 is an art foundation which provides emerging artists with opportunities for unlimited creation and research and provides an outlet for Wilson to focus on education and therapy. People who’ve been attending the summer benefit year after year have seen the progress, which for a long time appeared to be moving at a snail’s pace. This year’s party, however, marked the end of that process. It is now completed, as well as landscaped, placed on a north-south/east-west axis and already fulminating with installations.

The walk through the woods to the Watermill Center; Laurie Shabtai with Lucia Hwong-Gordon and daughter Roberta.

Mr. Wilson’s art is the process as much as his process is his art. If that sounds confusing, it’s not. His supporters are enthusiastic and generous. LVMH, for example, has given the foundation a million dollars. Mr. Wilson himself, along with Los Angeles art collector Laura Lee Woods and Luciano and Giancarla Berti, have given $500,000 each. And the donors contributing a quarter of a million include Pierre Berge, the Yves St. Laurent director, Giorgio Armani, through his foundation; same with Donna Karan, Louise MacBain, Richard and Lisa Perry, Gabriele Henkel and Maja Hoffman and Stanley Buchthal. Lots of donors of $100,000 or more: The Rudin and DeWoody Family, Philippine de Rothschild, Betty Freeman, Agnes Gund, Kathy Rayner, Earle and Carol Mack, Barbara Goldsmith through her foundation, and the list goes on and on of major donations, an achievement very few artists have ever been able to meet. Not everyone gets him. Robert Wilson is unlike most. He has the talent to inspire, the plutonian talent to actualize his ideas.

So this year was the milestone. In years past the site was an improvisational location for a big and festive party with the project looming on the sidelines waiting for fulfillment. This year we were seeing An Institution having taken shape. It may have been my imagination but it seemed to me that the guests, especially the women (everyone was asked to wear white) were more conservatively dressed, as if out of respect for The Completion.

During cocktails, Mr. Wilson stood on the sidelines, rather like a people’s monarch, graciously and quietly accepting the scores of congratulations, maybe hundreds, coming his way. JH and the Digital was taking it all in. There was a different mood about the party, although a buoyant one. Perhaps a little like when your child has grown up and is going out into the world where you anticipate achievement for him or her, briefly forgetting the great achievement you’ve just completed, thinking about the uncharted future.

The staff urged the crowd into the dinner tent about nine-thirty and we hightailed it for East Hampton.

This year also marked another important event in the life of Robert Wilson and that is the completion of Katharina Otto-Bernstein’s 90 minute documentary “Absolute Wilson” a biography of the man.

About six years ago, Katharina, an award-winning documentary filmmaker (“Beautopia” about the modeling world; “Coming Home” about the unification of German families, “The Need For Speed” about hard-core bicycle messengers in New York City, and “When Night Falls Over Moscow,” a German television production about the illegal arms trade) was asked by Wilson to go over to the Center to give him advice on placing some stones to create a rock installation on the lawn.

Deborah Schoeneman, Debbie Bancroft, and Katharina Otto-Bernstein
Leonard and Allison Stern
Kyle DeWoody

Her advice was rejected on the spot but he later suggested they do something together. She immediately suggested making a documentary about his life. Much to her surprise, he immediately agreed. That was followed by five years of following the man all over the world involved in his myriad projects and productions. She was nine months pregnant when she conducted her first interview and it led to Wilson driving her to the hospital to give birth to her first child. When shooting resumed six months later, Katharina was pregnant again, and following the man on tour.

This past Sunday night, Jessye Norman and Philip Glass along with Wilson and Katharina hosted a screening of the HBO documentary ate the Southampton Cinema.

Because there was such a wealth of visual and interview material, Prestel Publishing will release the interviews and still materials in the forthcoming biography “Absolute Wilson, The Biography,” by Katharina Otto-Bernstein, which will be published at the end of August.

Henry Buhl (center)
Bruce Bockmann, Bernard and Mrs. Lachner, and Maria Bockmann
L. to r.: Richard Meier and Heather Cohane; Rick and Mrs. Davis, Susan Davis, and Ted Victoria; Susan Shin.
Playing at the Watermil Center
Glenda Bailey and Veronica Hearst
A colorful foursome
Mary McFadden
The Watermill Center from the back
The crowd for cocktails
Sharon Hoge
Carl Lana
Asher and Michelle Edelman
Robin Leacock and Anthony Haden-Guest with friends
Wendy Vanderbilt
Taylor Stein
Amb. John Loeb and Sharon Handler
L. to r.: Isabella Rossellini and Robert Wilson; Ivana Lowell, Christopher Mason, and Marie Claudine Mukamavand.
Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos
Jane and Peter Marino
Alice and Paul Judelson
Under the dinner tent.
From there it was about a twenty minute drive over to East Hampton and Harry and Laura Slatkin’s party for Alex Papachristidis who has a room installation in this year’s showhouse. We saw people there we’d seen at the previous two events.
Ophelia and Bill Rudin, Laura and Harry Slatkin with Ms. Slatkin, and Alex Papachristidis
Jeff Pfeifle and friend
Steven Stolman and Pamela Fiori
Daniel Cappello and Georgina Schaeffer

Passing the fresh vegetables stands on our travels, I found myself thinking about having farm fresh vegetables in my own kitchen. Everything looked so good from a distance, and all so fresh.

On Sunday just before departing for the city, we hit a very abundant looking one just down the road from our hosts. Fresh cherries, strawberries, corn, garlic, string beans, peas, tomatoes; you name it.  I loaded up.
A few hours later I had a platter of (baby) corn on the cob and a salad of string beans, tomatoes and sweet onions. The abundance had returned to the city with me. And in the past twenty-fours I’ve consumed a lot of it, recalling the weekend and those pastoral scenes almost keeping right up with the encroaching 21st century. Again: what do we want? What do we need?


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July 18, 2006, Volume VI, Number 115
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/


© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/