Friday, October 30, 2009

The world of popular culture

Meandering through Central Park. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
October 30, 2009. Yesterday was a beautiful autumn day in New York. The traffic in midtown was unusually light. There was actually open road in some spots along East 57th Street. I was going down to Michael’s to lunch with Parker Ladd and Georgie Campbell, also known as Lady Colin Campbell in the world of popular literature.

Lady Campbell is an interesting woman for many reasons, too numerous to go into here – later on this at another time. She’s Jamaican born, from an old Jamaican family, lives in England and Provence, and is a prolific writer of biographies, autobiographies, and a few years ago, a novel called Empress Bianca.

Empress Bianca was a favorite wowser of a book for Dominick Dunne who believed it was based on the life of Lily Safra. Mrs. Safra herself evidently had some concern about it since she tried and perhaps successfully for a time prevented publication of it in England.

Daughter of Narcissus. Click to order.
I’ve never read it, haven’t seen it, but a number people I know have. The reactions vary but the likers loved it.

Lady Campbell has a new book called “Daughter of Narcissus.” And so after we finished talking about our mutual friend, the late Lady Sarah Spencer Churchill, known – never plainly – as Sarah, I got a bit of an education on the psyche of the narcissist.

Many use the term loosely to describe someone they know who is an egomaniac or chronically self-centered. But that’s just passing judgment. The psychological profile is quite intense. Lady Campbell claims her mother was a narcissist. It’s a memoir. Where there’s a mother there’s a memoir.

Last night I went a benefit dinner for the Smithsonian Archive of the Arts at the Mandarin Oriental. Many times I am invited to occasions such as this when I have no specific idea of what it’s about. My motivation is based entirely on curiosity and this diary and you dear reader, so I hope you’re not dozing as you read this.

This was the case last night. I’d decided to go because they were honoring Doug Cramer whom I have known for a long time, having met him when he was Aaron Spelling’s partner and a hugely successful television producer in Los Angeles.

Although he’s never been one who operated in an orbit of flash, back in those days it was said that he was earning a million dollars a week. That was thirty years ago. Whether or not that figure was accurate, it served to describe the “community’s” perception of the man which is the Hollywood version of highest esteem, as you can imagine. There were others but damned few.

Ben and Donna Rosen, last night's Honorary Co-Chairs.
At that time – early 80s – those two guys were the hottest in their business, and presumably the richest. Mr. Spelling eventually expressed his wealth by building the biggest house in Beverly Hills (except for the Doheny mansion, Greystone). Mr. Cramer expressed his wealth by living wealthily compared to the rest of us working stiffs, but especially by becoming a collector of Contemporary Art of the first order.

In the 1990s, after he lightened up on his business and eventually left California returning to live on the East Coast where he is a ranking member of what Aline Saarinen called the Proud Possessors, referring to an earlier generation of collectors.

The interesting thing about Art to this appreciator but non-collector, was defined last night, albeit ephemerally, in that ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental with its sensational view of the southern end of Central Park and its surrounding boulevards and avenues.

The guestlist, from the looks of it, was quite serious,
quite a bit older, sophisticated looking in the traditional 20th century sense, with more than a whiff of academe about some of them. There were a number of prominent artists, men and women of renown in the room, as well as collectors and dealers and publishers and art aficionados.

The ladies dressed smartly and fashionably but not long dresses. The men were mainly in suits and ties, occasionally black tie. Either way they all fit in perfectly.

The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art was started in the early 1950s as an idea for collecting documents (letters, etc.) of American artists and preserving them. Even hearing that, I wasn’t sure what was meant by that until the end of the evening when I was given a gift bag with the book “More Than Words; Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art” by Liza Kirwin.

Artists are artists are artists and their letters are as much their art as anything else they put their hands to. Looking at them transported me back to childhood on one of those bad weather days when staying inside meant the imagination focused on things to build or things to draw or things to write. These artists brought that into their adult lives and our world. These artists lived in those days all their lives. Or least that’s what I liked thinking as I was going through this curiously charming book.

Last night’s benefit was “A Salute To: Richard Artschwager, Douglas Cramer, Jack Lenor Larsen (who is one of our HOUSE interviews, as you may remember) and Kalus Kertess. Past award recipients include John Baldessari, Eli Broad, Chuck Close, Paula Cooper, André Emmerich, Agnes Gund, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellen Phelan, Joel Shapiro and Frank Stella.

I’m not so well versed. The names Kertess and Artschwager were not familiar to me. I might have been one of the few, if not the only one in the room, who didn’t know their names because they are giants in the art world.
Alexander Calder's letter to Ben Shahn who obviously needed directions to the Calder house on Painter Hill Road in Roxbury, Ct.
Thomas Hart Benton's letter to James Brooks, dated "Chilmark, (Martha's Vineyard) August 2, 1933."
Each gave a unique acceptance speech. Doug Cramer was presented his award by Los Angeles veteran art dealer Irving Blum who sold Doug his first Ellsworth Kelly back when Kelly was very new to the contemporary eye. What transpired eventually was an enormous Douglas Cramer collection (including hundreds of works of art have been donated to museum collections over the years). Nevertheless, a collector is a collector is a collector ...

My friend Beth DeWoody was among those present, speaking of collectors, as was my oft-mentioned-lately neighbor and friend, the art historian and curator Charlie Scheips. Lee Radziwill was at Doug Cramer’s table. Manuel Gonazalez all the way from Miami was there. The evening’s honorary chairs were Ben and Donna Rosen. It was all serious in context but gemultlich in feeling.

The members of the Art World, often also aficionados of music and dance, have at least occasionally, charmed lives with their respect for their avocations or vocations, or more precisely, their magnificent obsessions.
Barbara and Donald Tober Pat Schoenfeld and Doug Cramer Roger Berlind with Phil and Faith Geier
Charlie Scheips Rona Robb, Manuel Gonzalez
Pre-dinner conversation Charles Cowles and Dagny Coercoran Jack Lenor Larsen and Hugh Hardy
Also last night at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, the Young Patrons of Lincoln Center in association with Music Unites held their annual Fall Masquerade Gala, honoring Georgina Chapman and Mark Ronson. Gala co-chairs were Jessica Evelyn Betts, Alvin Crawford Jr., and Michelle Edgar.

Benefit Committee Includes: Samantha Averbuck, Ted Bailey, Jessica Baird, Magen Bandwart, Lindsey Berns, Margaret Betts, Kwesi Blair, Cara M. Brugnoli, Cathy Cameron, Linden Campbell, Constance M. Chen, Cindy Chin, Tara Church, Hillary Cole, Jennifer Compton, Ntiedo Etuck, Katie Fischer, Mali Sananikone Gaw, Dawne Marie Grannum, Evan and Jodi Greebel, Sunjay Guilera, Blair Greenberg, Bethany Hale, Gena Haugen, Grant Held, Sam Hendel, Jennifer Hyman, Alison Kero, Sinan Khatib, Atsuko Kidaka, Christina Lennon, Christina Lewis, Sasha Majerovsky, Randi Melton, Gretchen Meyer, John Nicholas, Shilla Kim-Parker, Rick Savitt, Marisa Sechrest, Ahsan Sheikh, Keka Shermerhom, Dee Dee Sides, Erik Stettler, Jennifer Stybel, Angie White, Jared Wien, Amy Wilk.
Mark Ronson greets friends on the red carpet outside Alice Tully Hall.
A number of those participating in last night’s festivities will one day be attending dinners such as the Smithsonian’s. Much more on this party on Monday ...
Daniel Merriweather, Kerry Washington, Mark Ronson, Georgina Chapman, and Michelle Edgar.
Cocktails in the lobby of Alice Tully Hall.
The audience before the performance.
Daniel Merriweather performs.
The bar after the show.
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Photographs by ANN WATT (YPLC)
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