In a season rife with Christmas cocktails, Hanukkah parties and other denominational fetes, it can be hard to remember the less jolly things meriting our attention. Lovely, then, that ACRIA, an organization that supports AIDS research, education and prevention, manages to combine the two in its annual “Holiday Dinner.”
Held Wednesday night in the basement of the Skylight Modern space, the event, sponsored by Tiffany & Co. and InStyle magazine, had all the makings of a yuletide affair, from coniferous greenery décor to warm, flickering candles. After perusing a silent auction of works by Robert Mapplethorpe and Ross Bleckner, guests like Isabella Rossellini, Camila Alves McConaughey, honorary chair Alessandra Ambrosio, the author Michael Cunnigham and Donna Karan took their seats for the more serious business at hand.
The actor Benn Northover gave a reading from Larry Kramer’s historic essay on the AIDS epidemic 1,112 and Counting and Judith Light and Joel Grey performed monologues from the writer-activist’s The Normal Heart, to heart-rending effect (pun intended). “It was like performing in an emergency ward and everyone who saw the play was changed. As was I,” recalled Grey of his time on stage as part of the 1985 production of The Normal Heart at the Public Theater.
Then Kramer, the first of two honorees that evening receiving The Artist Ending AIDS Award, took to the podium. In his typical impassioned rhetoric, he held the audience captive. “I hadn’t planned on making a speech until I read that great instigator of my anger, the New York Times,” he said, to much laughter, going on to invoke the number of articles that have been devoted to Ebola in the past year compared to those that were dedicated to HIV and AIDS decades ago. “My mind went back to those earlier years when we couldn’t get the president to say the word AIDS. You don’t see anything in the papers anymore about AIDS. Twenty-three fucking years this has been going on. There should be a cure…we are being allowed to die and I do not like the experience. Anyway, you get the point,” he continued, wrapping up. “I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad I’m still here.”
Things took a lighter turn, shall we say, when after a short video work by Bruce Weber, the night’s other honoree, Kim Kardashian West took her turn at the mike to introduce the photographer. “I wanted to share a quick story about how I started my fight against AIDS,” said the reality star, clad in a clingy satin Ulyana Sergeenko bra top and pencil skirt. She went on to recall volunteering at 14 to work with people with HIV and AIDS as community service through her school. “No one chose the category of AIDS so I rose my hand and said I would… so that taught me about compassion. Bruce is one of the most compassionate people I know…I was so afraid of dogs and he made me do this shoot with ten dogs. They were tiny dogs. But still.”
Weber, for his part, told a touching story of how he met the male model Joe MacDonald in Paris. “He was the first person I know who was diagnosed with AIDS,” said Weber. “So tonight, let us remember all the dear people we keep a soft spot for in our hearts. This is why we call them family.”