When Jane Holzer, or Baby Jane Holzer, as she is widely known, saw preparations for the exhibit: “Warhol: Flowers in the Factory” at Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, she gave it the ultimate blessing after seeing the plans and enjoying a dinner capped with a Warhol-inspired banana split. “Andy would have loved it,” she told Selby’s chief executive Jennifer Rominiecki.
Ms. Holzer, with her mane of blond hair cascading down past her shoulders, reigned in the 1960s as a Warhol superstar. She spent time with Warhol and his cohorts at the Factory and even starred in his film “Screen Test.” Today she lives between Palm Beach and New York but came to Sarasota to get an early glimpse of the exhibit and attend a private dinner organized for Selby’s patrons as well as James Snyder, director emeritus of the Israel Museum and Eric Shiner, Sotheby’s contemporary art expert.
Andy Warhol had his favorites whether they were bananas, celebrities or flowers. And when it came to printing silk screens, flowers … and hibiscus in particular, were prominent on the list.
In fact Warhol made 10,000 silk screens of hibiscus and Selby, which held a hugely successful exhibit last year: Marc Chagall, Flowers and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams, has used the theme of artists and their flower inspiration for its second annual ‘art in the garden’ exhibit.
Ms. Rominiecki, who worked at the New York Botanical Garden for 15 years, has brought the razzle dazzle of a New York opening to Selby’s annual benefits. In fact, the Chagall party had been such a success with 600 attendees that Selby’s benefit this year lured 650 guests to its dinner held under a tent overlooking Sarasota Bay.
Using Warhol’s fascination with repetition, Selby Gardens’ Director of Horticulture Mike McLaughlin created a wall in Selby’s conservatory with 550 bromeliads in boxed squares. (The staff refers to it as the ‘Warwol”) To complement the wall art, McLaughlin and his team designed quartets of stark white standing squares filled with a variety of flowers including orchids: Selby has the world’s largest collection of epiphytes and the arrangements mimicked the repetitive theme along the wall.
Outdoors there was a display with a profusion of painted metal hibiscus surrounding an oversize empty frame, along the bottom of which is a Warhol quote: “Nature is the Best Art.” Close by is another oversize frame with hanging air plants.
The Warhol show is not just about the flowers. In the gallery guests could see a display of four Warhol flower silk screens as well as photographs of an awkward looking Warhol out rowing and skiing. Though his life was largely urban, Warhol had a complex affinity for nature. He left 15 acres he owned in Montauk to The Nature Conservancy and refused to develop 40 acres near Aspen because “it is too pretty,’’ he wrote.
At the black tie evening, tours of the exhibition were followed by an elaborate dinner. For the Orchid Ball, the outside of the enormous white tent itself was decorated with images of the hibiscus silk screens. Stacks of square plastic boxes — each filled with a white orchid blossom, served as the centerpieces of each diner table. In an explosion of color blow up copies of the silk screens topped the pile of orchids.
If the tables were imaginative, some outfits did one better. Susan Malloy Jones would have made Andy Warhol proud in a dress with Warhol emblazoned around the skirt. Her hair, pulled into a lopsided ponytail, was partially died pink. “I bought the dress on the web,” Ms. Jones explained. “It only arrived yesterday and it came in an envelope.”
Ms. Jones was not the only guest who took Warhol to heart — and body. Deborah Blue wore a blouse from the Versace collection designed with Warhol’s images of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. This season, 20 years after Versace’s death, Versace’s sister Donatella, pulled out that pattern from her late brother’s collection and Ms. Blue said she found her top at a store in Tampa.
The orchid ball brings out the most glamorous of Sarasota’s younger set. Sarah Massey, in a long pink satin evening gown, said that she and her husband Eric have two young children and rarely go to black tie events. Allison Luzier, wife of Tom Luzier, a prominent local lawyer and former Selby board member, wore a long beaded yellow beaded dress. The four co-chairwomen: Ashley Kozel, Katie Hollingsworth, Liebe Gamble and Emily Stroud eschewed flowered prints for solid black, white and blue gowns.
And Selby counts on the generosity of long time residents to help supply the exhibition’s art component. Flora Mayor, who divides her time between New York and Sarasota and is an enthusiastic art collector, lent two Warhol prints of poinsettias.
Mrs. Major said she had collected modern art for many years and bought the Warhol about five years ago. “It made sense to lend it to Selby,” Mrs. Major said. “I think Jennifer’s idea to do the show was great, and I have gotten a lot of compliments on the picture.” Mrs. Major was seated at Ms. Rominiecki’s table along with Katherine Harris, the former attorney general of Florida who gained national attention for her role in the Florida recount that helped lead to Bush’s victory in the 2000 election.
Ms. Harris and her husband, Amarillo, Texas banker Richard Ware, who married last year, divide their time between Texas and Florida but the Selby event was a priority. Ms. Harris has a special affinity for Selby. Not only is she on the advisory board, but her 23,000 square foot home, modeled on the Rodin Museum in Paris, is directly across the water from the gardens so that she has a stunning view of them.
To underscore the Warhol theme, the dinner courses referred to works by Warhol — a tomato based salad (think tomato cans) and grilled cheese sandwiches followed by a surf and turf of Angus steak and lobster, and of course, a naked banana cream stick for dessert.
Perhaps the most intriguing guest of the evening was James Warhola, the nephew of Andy who attended the diner with his long time companion Diana Hurley and seemed to enjoy the entire event including a breakfast at which curator-at-large Carol Ockman interviewed Mr. Warhol.
He recalled that his grandmother, Warhol’s mother, lived with her son in Manhattan and was always thrilled when the other children and the grandchildren came to visit. James, who is himself, an illustrator and author of several books including “Uncle Andy’s Cats,” remembered his uncle warmly. For James own father, such trips to New York were a challenge. He feared leaving anything in the car when the family arrived to stay. So they had to carry it up the steps to Uncle Andy’s brownstone. Since there were a passel of children, as well as parents, one can only imagine.
But James recalled his uncle as a kind and religious man — judging at least by attendance, since he went to church with his mother every Sunday. Though his own life was immersed at the factory, Warhol would not let the children come and visit. Nor were they allowed to see any of the movies he was working on.
Selby planned a number of events to mark the opening of the show, including a luncheon for Robin Lane Fox, the acclaimed British historian and garden writer, who flew from England to visit the garden and review the exhibit for The Financial Times. Pauline Wamsler Joerger, the great, great granddaughter of the legendary Chicago socialite and business woman Berthe Potter Palmer, hosted a small luncheon for him at her property overlooking Sarasota Bay several days later.
Mrs. Potter Palmer, who long outlived her husband, the Chicago entrepreneur, contributed both to the economic and cultural life of Sarasota. Arriving as a widow in 1910, she bought up roughly 90,000 acres over the next eight years in what is now Sarasota County and developed them for cattle ranching and the cultivation of crops.
Though she was a glamorous socialite, she was also a savvy investor. In acquiring the land, she associated with J.S. Lord, a local developer, as well as her own brother. When the land was divided, she warned her own sons: “I do not want to take land of any less value than Mr. Lord is getting. I insist that he be not allowed to have the cream of the property and leave us the skim milk,” she wrote, according to a booklet, Mrs. Potter Palmer: Legendary Lady of Sarasota, by Janet Snyder Matthews and Linda W. Mansperger.
Such business acumen helped Mrs. Potter to virtually double her husband fortune in the 16 years she survived him. Mrs. Palmer too loved gardens and created one at Historic Spanish Point just minutes from Sarasota.
The orchid ball was just one of many events in the schedule filled season in Sarasota that included a sold out concert by Diana Krall, where aficionados could her the singer and her accompanists.
Meanwhile the Ringling Museum, who boasts 66 acres on Sarasota Bay, hosted an event for its most generous donors as it nears completion of an ambitious $100 million fundraising campaign. The dinner was held to celebrate that campaign and was enhanced by the announcement that Linda and Keith Monda, the former president of Coach pledged $5 million, which includes artworks by Richard Serra, Beverly Pepper, Teo Gonzales and Yayoi Kusama. Executive Director Steven High noted that the museum is now just $7 million short of its $100 million goal.
John and Mable Ringling built their home Ca’ d’Zan, (house of John) directly on the water and cocktails were held on its terrace. As the sun was setting, Mr. High and Florida State University Provost Sally McRorie offered a brief welcome and then the 170 guests followed into a tent set up on the lawn for dinner.
Among the guests were Janice and Howard Tibbals. Mr. Tibbels is the well loved animals and Ringling board member whose passion for the circus led him to create a 3800 square foot miniature circus, complete with miniature tents, acrobats, animals, rail cars and foot carts that is one of the Ringling’s main attractions. The list also included Rebecca Donelson, who runs the Dart Gallery in Chicago representing such artists as Robert Motherwell and Frank Stella and James Lombard, who served in the Florida House of Representative from 1984 to 1992 and his wife Patricia who once managed the David Findlay Art Gallery in Manhattan.
After dinner guests moved to the outdoor patio for dancing.
Photographs by Cliff Roles