The first thing I did at the Parrish Art Museum Midsummer Party was to actually go see the art. Because, everyone told me I HAD to. Honorees Racquel Chevremont and Mickalene Thomas, collectively known as Deux Femmes Noires, had curated an exhibition featuring a roster of cutting edge women artists, titled Set It Off.
Another honoree exhibition: An Art of Changes: Jasper Johns Prints, 1960 – 2018, was an impressive collection of iconic works.
Inside a room of February James’ emotive paintings of black faces surrounding a cardboard table and chairs, a woman expounded on the works to her husband.
Had this party, the peak event at the height of the Hamptons season, now become more about what you saw, not what you wore?
And when did it happen? Like an ocean liner changing course, this sea change has been slow and incremental. I noticed it in 2013, after the Parrish had moved from the museum Grosvenor Atterbury designed in the late 19th Century to the uber-modern Herzog & de Meuron 34,400 square-foot structure, on 14 acres.
“The party is attracting more collectors, gallery owners and artists,” said Debbie Bancroft, who co-chaired with Preston T. Phillips, George Wells and Honorary Chair Marcia Dunn Sobel. “It’s really an art event now, as it should be.” Debbie has been chairing this party for 38 years, beginning when she was in her 20s.
“At the original Parrish, the group was more old Southampton and traditional,” she recalled, “little perfect party frocks and black tie, mostly long dresses. Then, the dresses crept up and the black tie was lost. Then, the regular tie was lost. It evolved into a free-form, fashion expression. This year you saw some long dresses, but also a lot of fabulous pantsuits, bold colors, shiny fabrics and sequins. I ended up pretty timid in my dress, only because my daughter made me change out of a Calypso St. Barth leopard sequined jumpsuit.”
Debbie’s daughter, Serena Bancroft, is the 20-something “It” girl who’s Mama’s delight. “Serena walked in and said, ‘I don’t even wanna tell you how wrong this is!’ I changed into a wallpaper print (still Calypso) to look more like a mother than a renegade art co-chair.”
Serena was on the committee for the Juniors Friday Midsummer Dance event co-chaired by Parrish Trustee Larry Milstein and Destinee Ross-Sutton, which drew the 20 and 30 something crowd. They, too, turned out to be interested in the art.
“I sat at the front door, because I like watching people come in and out,” Debbie continued. “When we told them the gallery would close at 9:30, many of these kids went there first and stayed for a good half hour.” Besides James, Set It Off brought artists Leilah Babirye, Torkwase Dyson, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Karyn Olivier, and Kennedy Yanko to the Parrish.
The next night, the front door proved two things: There were so many parties, you could hardly keep track. And good looking single men are always welcome. Two such well heeled gentlemen were not on the list, yet were so convincingly certain they had bought tickets, the door, not wanting to disrespect a donor, let them in. Half way through their salad, when the program began, they realized: their tickets were for the Waxman Hamptons Happening down the road. Cue a quick exit.
Perhaps they missed Parrish Board of Trustees Co-Chairs Frederic M. Seegal and Alexandra Stanton greeting guests during the cocktail hour on the Meadow, but heard the love for the Museum’s new director, Mónica Ramírez-Montagut, Ph.D, when dinner began. “The minute we met her we knew she was the right one for our community, our walls and our museum at this moment in time,” Stanton told the room.
Dr. Ramírez-Montagut held curatorial positions at the Guggenheim, the Aldrich, and the San José Museum of Art, served as the executive director of the Eli and Edythe Broad and as the director of the Tulane Newcomb Art Museums. A native of Mexico, Mónica earned a Master of Architecture and Ph.D. in Architecture from the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Barcelona.
“This is the honor of my life,” she told me. “My intention is to continue the depth of forward looking exhibitions that put us in the forefront of the arts field. Just as I’ve focussed on in my previous tenures, my emphasis will be on the visitor experience. 60 to 70% of the people who walk through our doors do so for the first time. I want them to leave inspired by the access to excellence of this modern, architecturally relevant building, contemporary and historical art.”
She’ll continue the Parrish’ credo of inclusion. The museum, you see, is not just a pretty face. It has all sorts of community programs: for those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and their caregivers; for adults with developmental disabilities; teens and adults with autism; women, during and after incarceration. It partners with local schools for student art shows and bilingual programs. There are black and Latino film festivals, free Friday night music programs and more.
Mónica’s experience dovetails perfectly. “In the past,” she told me, “I implemented inclusion projects that not only focused on outreach and education, but incorporated the community stakeholder perspective into our exhibitions. They are not art experts. That is our role. They are folks with diverse expertise and different life experiences that we can float some of our ideas through to help us course correct. For example, when we did an exhibition in New Orleans called Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana, we asked 30 artists to translate their stories into exciting artworks, then hired two formerly incarcerated women to co-curate. They made certain the vocabulary that we used was inclusive and the perspective accurate. It amended some of our blind spots.”
“Mónica is remarkably accomplished,” Debbie told me. “I love the fact that she’s an architect. We’re so proud of our Herzog & de Meuron design. People come to see that beautiful building as well as the art.
“Do you know Mónica has an identical twin sister who was at the party? There was some swiveling heads wondering if she was changing outfits. I see potential for getting into some fun trouble with that in the future!
“And hats off to the girl I’ve been doing this with for 38 years, Nina Madison. We could do a sitcom called ‘Special Events.’” Nina is Development Officer for Corporate and Major Donor Relations and Facility Rental. “The weekend raised more than a million dollars!”
On Friday night, Serena Bancroft, Laura Brown, Samantha Blake Cohen, Sofia D’Angelo, Ben Djaha, Alessandro Ford Rippolone, Alexander Hankin, Marisa Hochberg, Emma Holzer, Elizabeth Kurpis, Shantell Martin, Georgia McLanahan, Dria Murphy, Arielle Patrick, Tripoli Patterson, Dana Prussian, Steven Sachs, Shari Siadat, Elise Taylor, Tourmaline, Timo Weiland, Kendall Werts comprised the Host Committee. Canard, Inc. provided hors d’oeuvres and deserts.
The following night, Olivier Cheng Catering & Events did the dinner. Décor by event designer Frank Alexander NYC, with its oversized, hanging globe lighting, was spot on. In fact, on trend, is the operative word for the Parrish these days. Artists of color are finally getting their deserved spotlight and the stratospheric prices that attend it. Actually, stratospheric prices are trending everywhere. But, that’s another story.
Sara Friedlander, Deputy Chairman, Christie’s, led the auction.
Notable dinner guests included artists Leilah Babirye, Mel Kendrick, Ugo Rondinone, Michelle Stuart, Toni Ross, and Darius Yektai; art journalist and playwright Carey Lovelace; fashion designer Nicole Miller; producers Stewart Lane and Bonnie Comley; and Patricia Duff, activist and founder of The Common Good.
During the dinner presentation, George Wells presented a bouquet to honoree philanthropist/collector Miyoung Lee. She thanked family and friends that came. “Some had to travel a long way to be here. Some had to do a lot of drugs to be here.”
And with that double take, I knew for certain: This is not your grandmother’s party any more!
Photographs by David Benthal, Deonté Lee & Madison McGaw/BFA.com