We found some ironic significance to the theme of this year’s Watermill Center Gala, STAND. It’s visionary founder, Robert Wilson, had back surgery three weeks ago and amazingly was back on his feet. Actually, “It symbolizes standing in solidarity with Ukraine and all our international counterparts who come to this creative space to collaborate, cooperate and see the world through an arts lens,” new Development Director Sarah Boyce told me. “It refers to the H.G Wells’ quote: ‘If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.’”
Like Wilson, the Center — celebrating 30 years as an interdisciplinary creative cauldron — is still standing. So were Adam Parker Smith’s Sarcophagi sculptures evoking glowing body bags. Hollie Miller dressed as stone pushed a boulder (“Bedrock”). Another woman (Chloe Bellemere) had smoke billowing from her nether region (“Forms of Protest” by Gökçen Dilek Acay), a smokin’ reminder of the hot topic a woman’s womb has become.
The evening culminated when strong armed guests raised an “Ark” into a standing position. Because we’ll all need an ark as world floods continue? “Nothing quite so bleak!” responded Brian O’Mahoney, the performance artist who came to Watermill as an artist in residence and stayed as most excellent Communications Manager. The piece (“Manhattan Go,” by Tsubasa Kato) refers to a U.S. ship which left Sag Harbor for Japan in 1843 and the need to work together.
As I heard a few Watermill volunteers wonder if it would get up and, then, saw it teeter, I made a quick retreat. “It’s supposed to stand up straight and stay there,” TV Director Dan Berg assured me. “How many times have you heard that?”
Guests walked through a sculpture and performance laden trail (Liz Glynn’s “The Myth of Singularity”) to an indoor exhibit of works, curated by Noah Khoshbin and Wilson: Inga Maren Otto Fellowship resident Robert Nava and a retrospective of Christopher Knowles. Wilson met Knowles in 1973, when he was 13. Often referred to as autistic, Christopher’s art resonated with Bob. In 1976, Wilson incorporated Knowles poetry into “Einstein on the Beach.” Thus began a lifetime relationship.
“He changed my life,” Wilson told me. “Chris and I are sons and brothers. He’s a genius who thinks in terms of math and geometry. When I first met him, Chris’s mother saw my notebooks and said they looked like his. He often helps me organize my work in the theater because he can see big patterns quickly. I’m making a new work about Stephen Hawking, who said the universe is a machine. And Chris is like a machine.”
I made my way into the back woods, each turn revealing a compelling tableau. It also led to Katharina Otto-Bernstein, the German/American filmmaker who produced the internationally acclaimed biopic, Absolute Wilson, a collaboration birthed at a 1998 cocktail party which premiered in 2006.
That’s not the only thing they birthed together. “I was nine months pregnant at my first interview with him,” she recalled, “I got up and my water broke! ‘I’m going to drive you to the hospital,’ he said. ‘Don’t get into the car with him!’ warned his assistant. ‘He hasn’t driven in ten years.’ But he did drive me. Of course, when we got to the hospital, they asked if he was the father. That was the first Watermill baby. I still have pictures with Bob and my son when he was one day old. That began our big creative love affair. And bound us together forever.”
“And I’m the real father,” chimed in art dealer Nathan Bernstein.
Wilson spread out the Watermill festivities to two nights, the first a Friday private dinner for 50. That gave Saturday night guests more time to wander around the ten acres. The evening honored Maria Bacardi. Guests included Audrey Gruss, Kim Heirston, Fern Mallis, Wendy Federman, Peggy Siegal, James Reginato, Barbara Graustark, Dakota Jackson, Paul Austin, Wendy Keys, Mary Jane Marcasiano and RoseLee Goldberg.
Overhearing Paul Austin talk about his new LilaNur Perfumes made from pure Indian essences, I became convinced I had found my next great scent and worked my way over. “What are YOU wearing?” He wondered. “I have a great nose but I can’t figure it out.” It was my favorite French Tuberose perfume — with a hint of … organic cedar bug spray! “I thought I detected a sandalwood note,” he laughed. “My tuberose is better! I’ll send you some.”
Seems I, too, came out of the woods changed!
One thing that hasn’t changed, is Jean and Martin Shafiroff’s commitment to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. Once again, Jean and Marty hosted the hospital’s biggest summer event.
It was the lead-in to this Saturday’s series of private “Gala in Your Gardens,” the brainchild of Southampton Hospital Foundation President Mirella Cameran-Reilly. The Shafiroffs are among those who will have the garden party. They are catered by Elegant Affairs, with some Wolffer wine thrown in.
It’ll be the third year the gala goes virtual behind the hedges. Then, hasta la vista to all that. “Next year, we’re celebrating our 65th Sapphire Anniversary of the Summer Party,” Mirella told me. “We plan to be back under the tents with a gala to remember!”
We walked outdoors through the Shafiroff’s impressive indoor pool, past the Alex Donner band, to Chief Administrative Officer Bob Chaloner. I leaned in for my habitual air kiss, then stopped. “What are we doing these days,” I asked this arbiter of health protocol. “First we kiss, then we get tested,” he laughed.
Bob’s the man who has grown the hospital from punchline to provider. He motivates big contributors, never losing sight of the bigger community. The Jenny and John Paulson Emergency Room he shepherded is new, clean and gives better service than most of our stores and restaurants. Julie Ratner, who founded the Ellen Hermanson Breast Center, told me, she gets white glove treatment without pulling strings.
Supporters at the party included: Judith Kasen-Windsor, Cindy and Ladd Willis, Melanie Wambold, Laurie LoFaro-Freeman and Jim Freeman, Nancy Jane and Jeffrey Loewy, Allison Morrow, Nancy Stone, Haley and Peter Ludlow. Other notables: Fern Mallis, Rebeca Seawright, Jay Schneiderman, Fred Thiele, Fr. Alex Karloutsos and his wife Xanthi, Lydia and Rudy Touzet, Greg D’Elia and TV personalities Ann Liguori, Valerie Greenberg, Harry Rubin, and Cameron Silver.
They’ll be there for Chaloner’s planned new hospital in Shinnecock Hills. It’ll take $250 million. But, hey, it’s the Hamptons. The East Hampton Emergency Center has already exceeded Bob’s goal of $35 million by five million. “Between the new hospital, the East Hampton facility and then the 30 satellite facilities we’ve established throughout the region, we will have one helluva healthcare system,” he proclaimed.
“We have a hospital right now built between 1908 and 1975. I have only 20 private rooms in a community where everybody wants one. During Covid, one of our billionaire neighbors ended up in the hospital when we had no single rooms. By the time we found one for him, he had grown so fond of his roommate, he said leave him where he is. Only in the Hamptons!”
Having absorbed this info, we decided to absorb something alcoholic. We sidled over to see to which “Fashion Icon” Fern Mallis was talking. It was Audrey Smaltz, who dressed and managed the models backstage for everyone, everywhere, as the Ground Crew, from 1977 to 2017.
20 of those years, she was under Fern’s tents. One time, Mallis alerted Smaltz she was bringing Venus and Serena Williams, fresh off their US Open wins, through the back. Their popularity was such, the powers that be held the Carolina Herrera show for them. When they walked in, “the entire audience of 1,200 people stood up and gave them a standing ovation,” said Fern. “I had never seen that before.”
Audrey’s worked with Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, Betsey Johnson, Bill Blass, Michael Kors, Nanette Lepore, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenneth Cole and Ralph Rucci. “But, Oscar was the one who taught me how to charge extra for myself,” she said. “‘Since I hired you,’ he said, ‘none of my necklaces, earrings, or shoes are missing!’ Models can be the biggest thieves. They didn’t even think they were stealing! They just felt entitled.”
Audrey was there with her wife Gail Marquis. “All my life, I was with rich men, important men,” she laughed. “I was with Lionel Hampton for 14 years. Then, when I was 61, I fell in love with a woman, an Olympian (basketball). We’ve been together for 23 years. People ask, ‘How did that happen?’ I just say, ‘It was my journey.’”
Ah yes, the proverbial journey … This weekend, it led us from the Southampton estate section through wondrous wooded paths … and out of the emergency room.