Michelle Williams.
Michelle Williams. Photo by Sherly Rabbani.

The Whitney Museum’s fall gala, sponsored this year by Louis Vuitton and held at Skylight at Moynihan Station in New York City, could easily have been just another rubber chicken charity circuit affair—albeit one held in a cooler-than-usual locale (Prabal Gurung held his Spring ’14 fashion show at Skylight and Nike did a recent blockbuster event in the space). Instead, guests entered through a trippy white light display and were welcomed with a tableau of nude male and female models reclining on a pile of Louis Vuitton trunks as artists at easels sketched them in charcoal.

“So they’re real?” queried one man to his date. “They look like they’re wax.”

“If I take a photo, I’ll be accused of being a pornographer,” said another gentleman as his sequin-clad companion made a beeline, iPhone camera in hand.

In between nibbling on mini pyramids of spinach soufflé and nori leaves with edamame puree, guests could also spy on actress Michelle Williams (one of the evening’s honorary chairs and a star of the current Louis Vuitton campaign); get a temporary tattoo of the Louis Vuitton logo in glitter or ink (many a 40 something woman gladly offered their wrists—“when in Rome!” remarked one); or pose in a photo booth holding signs emblazoned with phrases like “They Called Her Styrene” and “Those of Us Who Have Double Parked.”

The latter was a reference to Ed Ruscha, who was the evening’s honoree. After guests sat down to dinner beneath a ceiling hung with a mobile of picture frames, The Whitney’s director Adam Weinberg paid homage to Ruscha’s famous word paintings by reciting a coffee house-style prose poem comprised of some of his favorite monikers like “Hate,” “Lordy,” and “Hollywood.”

“I was told a Jewish boy shouldn’t do this in rap form,” quipped Weinberg.

Ruscha received a standing ovation and in a lively speech decides to hand out fake awards to some of the other artists in attendance, including Tom Sachs, George Condo and Chuck Close.

“Joan Didion gets an award for getting an award,” he said of the famous writer who just won a PEN award, adding, “When I think about it, I’m seeing a lot of similarities and parallels between myself and the Whitney. I moved around a lot and branched out.”

David Byrne rounded out the dinner with a rousing performance and then gala guests headed out, joining the fray of the younger Studio Party which had taken over their cocktail space. Alexa Chung took a turn at an easel, while Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough caught up. Those nori and spinach soufflé canapés were replaced with salmon burgers and mini quesadillas. And the nude models’ genitalia were now cloaked in scarves. Why, too dirty baby?