Politicians take sides during the week, but party across party lines on Hamptons weekends. Letitia James joined Republicans at a Stony Brook Southampton Hospital private dinner. Wilbur Ross browsed George Floyd Protest Murals at the Watermill Center Summer Festival. And the “Old Hamptons” helped Tomashi Jackson celebrate East End people of color during the Parrish Art Museum’s Midsummer Weekend.
Watermill’s Robert Wilson helped save the George Floyd posters painted on Minneapolis storefront boards as art. But, he won’t get further into that fray. “Politics divide men,” he told us. “Religion divides men. Art can unite us. So, I try not to get into the issue of politics, but, think of how to bring us together. I firmly believe that art is one of the few things that unites us.”
Still, when it came to standing up to police brutality, Wilson walked the walk. In Summit, NJ, in 1967, he stopped a policeman beating a 13-year-old deaf, black boy. The child was homeless. Bob — age 27 — adopted him. And later wrote Deafman Glance, a silent, seven hour production.
When Deafman debuted in 1971, Clive Barnes called it a “new nonverbal, post‐Wagnerian epic theater” by “the first and last Robert Wilson.” Fifty years later, Wilson remains one of a kind. So does his Watermill Festival. It’s a visual feast, with lots to chew on. Torches light winding paths through woods filled with ancient stone totems. Theatrical tableau’s and conceptual offerings dot the way.
This year, the woods were less dense, but not the programming. Instead of one night of 1,000 revelers, there were two weekends of smaller events. It was titled CROSSROADS, billed as “a gathering at a critical moment … led by Carrie Mae Weems, in collaboration with Robert Wilson.”
The New York Times called Weems perhaps our best contemporary photographer, (who) creates work that insists on the worth of black women — both in art and in life.”
Black women have certainly proven to be of great worth in the political landscape. They brought down an Alabama Senator and turned Georgia blue. In New York, powerhouse Attorney General Letitia James has brought her office to bear, across party lines, on a former president and soon-to-be former governor. New York Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright brought her to Jean Shafiroff’s Gala in Your Garden, one of a string of 30 catered dinners to benefit Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
We’ve been watching James’ unemotional, by the book, press conferences on her civil turned criminal investigation into Trump business practices. We hardly recognized the warm, laughing woman at the Shafiroff’s. “Darling,” she called across the room to Isabelle Orlansky, laughing and running up to hug her. They had never before met.
“The Hamptons is my happy place,” James told us. “I usually run away just to get some peace. I try to rest but it’s impossible these days. But, I have met lovely and wonderful people here who believe in democracy, believe in the rule of law and believe in public service like I do.”
How does she react to her newfound fame? “I come from humble beginnings,” the Brooklyn native answered. “I try to keep my head down, my feet on the ground, and just do my work. Besides, it’s not just me. I’m part of a team.”
The hospital’s top team, Bob Chaloner and Mirella Cameran-Reilly, were there, as were Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, John and Margo Catsimatidis, Oscar Mendes, Dan Gasby and Tisha Collette.
At other parties: Jamee and Peter Gregory, Jimmy Nederlander Jr., Jimmy and Margo Nederlander, Jonathan and Somers Farkas, Laura Lofaro and Jim Freeman, Sheila and Joe Fuchs, Jean Little, Ann Grimm, Cindy and Ladd Willis, Caitlin and Kevin O’Connell, Michael and Heather Nardy, Jim and Hollis Forbes, Allegra and Marty Kelly.
We left early for a second Saturday night at Watermill and the ever charming Wilson. He regaled us with a story about Marlene Dietrich. “I had seen her perform 17 times at L’espace Cardin,” he began, “Finally I got my courage, went to her and said, ‘Miss Dietrich, can I invite you to dinner?’ She said, ‘With pleasure.’ I said, ‘Shall I pick you up?’ She said, ‘No but don’t be late.’ She was punctual. I was early.
“We were sitting at a table and an elderly man came to her and said, ‘Miss Dietrich, you’re so cold when you perform.’ ‘You didn’t listen to my voice,’ she replied. Her movements could be icy cold, but, boy, was she hot and sexy! I was 28 years old. ‘Bob,’ she called me, ‘the difficulty is to place the voice with the face.’”
“That changed my life. When I directed the Ring by Wagner and Brunhilde was screaming, I said, ‘Be ice and the voice be fire.’ That came from Dietrich. Later, I asked her, ‘What color is right for you?’ She said, ‘Black or white.’”
Another night in Paris, Wilson took Dietrich to see Delphine Seyrig perform. “Delphine was in Last Year in Marienbad,” Wilson continued, “and perhaps the most beautiful woman ever. She was very nervous that Marlene Dietrich was going see her. Afterwards, we went to congratulate Delphine. ‘You must never wear earrings on stage,’ said Dietrich, ‘They don’t work.’ She didn’t say anything about her performance! Can you imagine?“ Bob laughed. “Delphine pulled those things off her ears!”
He turned his attention to the stage. “Now you’re going to see something fantastic,” he told us. Craig Harris came on, with a band that included Eddie Allen, Carla Cook, Du’bois A’keem, Yayoi Ikawa, Calvin Jones, Sam McKelton, and Jay Rodriguez. Nona Hendryx had performed alongside Marcelle Davies-Lashley, Francesca Harper, Kimberly Nichole, Vernon Reid, and Carl Hancock Rux.
There was spoken text, “The Baptism,” by Carl Hancock Rux with a haunting performance. It was a warm, perfect night to be outside. Lights illuminated the stage and a nearby 17th Century stone God of Life Bob had found in Zumba, Indonesia, which seemed to bless the proceedings.
“Grace will save your soul. Take the time to be kind. Help someone in a bind,” the band sang. “We just wanna play that real soul music. The world could really use it.” The evening ended with in a spiritual crescendo with everyone jamming on stage.
Other highlights included a kick-off performance with Laurie Anderson, Shane Weeks and members of the Shinnecock nation, a first time Paul Thek exhibit, Lou Reed’s drones (they shook the buildings), performances and installations by Laurie Lambrecht, Kyle Bass, and Vijay Iyer.
What ended for us late last Saturday night in a rapture of funky music had begun the previous Saturday with an earlier meet and greet. That night, we chatted with Toni Ross, Somers and Jonathan Farkas, Ambassador of France to Canada Kareen Respal, French representative to the United Nations Nicolas de Rivière, Amy and Ronald Guttman, Bonnie Cannon, Ron Kaplan, Chene Bleu winery owner Nicole Rolet and Michel Brogard.
Bob greeted everyone in a meadow by the bar. Regulars Hilary Geary and Wilbur Ross walked around the hedges. “Thanks so much for coming,” Bob said. They chatted. “Take a look at the posters,” he suggested. “They are from George Floyd. They’re pretty powerful. It’s the first time they’ve been seen outside of Minneapolis.”
In their path, a cat lay in the waning sun on one of the many monolithic stones Bob has collected from his yearly travels in Bali and elsewhere. “Looks like a very contented cat,” Bob noted. “She was sitting there before watching the dancers rehearse and she’s sitting there watching tonight.”
“I didn’t know cats could buy tickets,” Ross replied. “She is a street cat,” said Wilson. “She lived all her life on the street. She came and she’s related to this whole group of people. But, she keeps her distance.”
Of course, Watermill is no place for a cat fight!
Drive south from Watermill to the Montauk Highway and you are at the Parrish Art Museum. They are close in other ways. The Watermill Artist in Residence program is often the first stop before a Parrish exhibit. Such was the case with Tomashi Jackson, honored at the Parrish Midsummer Dinner, the highlight of three gala events spread over the weekend. She spent a month at Watermill as an Inga Maren Otto fellow before the Parrish event.
“This is the fourth year of a really wonderful partnership we have with the Watermill Center, to collaborate and invite visual artists to show at the Parrish that can be in residence at the Center before the show,” Senior Curator of ArtsReach and Special Projects Corinne Erni told us.
Jackson is Erni’s “get.” She discovered Tomashi three years ago, at the Tilton Gallery, and tapped her for the Parrish. Then Jackson got into the Whitney Biennial and really took off. For the Parrish, Jackson created “The Land Claim,” a multi media exploration of past and present communities of color on the East End. But quarantine delayed the party another year. With the art world celebrating (i.e. driving up price tags for) artists of color, the show is truly of the moment.
The early works of Roy Lichtenstein is the other headlining exhibit at the Parrish. And no, it was not put together by one of their longtime angels, Lichtenstein’s widow and the evening’s Honorary Chair, Dorothy Lichtenstein. “It was organized by Colby College in Maine and the Nasher Museum at Duke University,” Dorothy told us.
The paintings, created from 1948-60, in fact, precede her. “I met Roy in 1963,” she told us. “He was already in New York and he already had some success as a pop artist at the Bianchini Gallery (where she worked) around the corner from from Castelli. I think in his early work, you can see the irony and the wit. And I’m very pleased with the show.”
Expect more of these types of shows, new Museum Director Kelly Taxter told us. She plans to continue the heritage exhibits of the famed artists who migrated East, to show “what it means to be here and to feel what this place is: an important cultural anchor.” And she’d like to see more diverse programming.
“I’m very eager to think about the large Latin population that lives and works here all the way to Hampton Bays and Riverhead,” Taxter told us. Their history, for example, can be represented in the art of Central and South America. There are other diverse cultures out here whose stories, Taxter feels, can be brought into the Parrish as well.
For us, the history — and face — of the Parrish Midsummer Party, is Debbie Bancroft, who has been a chair, starting as a Junior, year after year, for the past 35 summers. Daughter Serena, 25, was part of the Museum’s Host Committee for the Friday night Junior’s dance (chaired by Larry Milstein).
Debbie’s table included: Caroline Hirsch and Andrew Fox (they own Caroline’s comedy Club and are launching NY Comedy Week now, which happens in November), Amy and Pierre Abitol (they own Shou Sugi Ban House — the chic wellness center next to the Parrish), Annie Faulk, Amy Hoadley, Ham Hogue and Debi Pirro. Other guests: Silvia and Sophocles Zoullas, Fred and Robin Seegal, artist Rashid Johnson and his wife Sheree Hovsepian.
She co-chaired with Preston Phillips. Phillips and partner Charles Forthover walked me around, sampling the Danny Meyer gourmet hors-d’oeuvres and admiring the decor by Austin Freemont. We chatted with Mitchell Seldin, Elena Ford, Amanda and Victor Cain, before I moved outside to the “Field of Dreams,” to come across Carolina von Humboldt and Tony Bechara, Lydia and Rudy Touzet.
The host committee for Saturday night was Mary and Howard S. Frank, Christina and Alan MacDonald, Sandy and Stephen Perlbinder, Patti and Mark Renton, and Robin and Frederic M. Seegal.
And Friday night’s Midsummer Dance host committee: Lizzie Asher, Serena Bancroft, Jesse Bongiovi, Jack Brinkley-Cook, Sophia Cohen, Ben Djaha, Warren Elgort, Rachel Feinstein, Carolyn Floersheimer, Alessandro Ford-Rippolone, Andrea Franchini & Cian Connor, Alexander Mason Hankin, J. Logan Horne, Sheree Hovsepian & Rashid Johnson, Kit Keenan, Vajra Kingsley, Shantell Martin, Georgia McLanahan, Noor Pahlavi, Arielle Patrick, Tripoli Patterson, Emma Portner, Joshua Pulman, Steven R. Sachs, Sydney Sadick, Ally Shapiro, Shari Siadat, Jack Siebert, Elise Taylor, Melissa Urfirer Gottesman, and Jake Wildstein.
On Sunday, Samantha Brand and Darice Fadeyi co-chaired the Midsummer Family Day featuring the National Circus project and a workshop with artist Nathan Carter.
“Then there’s the Midsummer Pet Day,” Charles Forthover said. I was already planning to send Lola Belle for a day of doggie beauty to prepare. “Really?!” I asked. “No,” he said. “But, there ought to be!”
Photographs by copyright Martyna Szczesna, courtesy The Watermill Center; J. Van der Watt for Rob Rich/SocietyAllure.com (Stony Brook); Joe Schildhorn/BFA.com (Parrish)