Out with a Bang

Chuck Close and Milly Glimcher

Chuck Close and Milly Glimcher

Change isn’t easy. Or so the saying goes. Though perhaps it’s easier for some than for others.

“This building is so strange. It feels so dated,” mused one woman to her companion as she surveyed the lobby of the Breuer Building, former home to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the site of its annual Gala & Studio Party, sponsored by Louis Vuitton.

In case you haven’t heard, the Whitney is moving downtown. And so Wednesday night’s affair held a special significance.

Besides the priceless artworks that normally dot the walls of the Breuer Building like sprinkles on an ice cream scoop, the most conspicuous thing missing from Wednesday evening’s affair was the celebrities. At a time when it seems every museum from coast-to-coast is wrangling A-list talent for their annual galas, the cocktails held on the 4th floor provided little in the way of star-watching, with the exception of the TV personality Padma Lakshmi and actress Riley Keough. (Tennis champion John McEnroe was there, but he’s also an avid art collector.) Instead the space, which featured a bar built out of wooden packing crates marked “Fragile” and video projections of the new Renzo Piano designed building, was teeming with artists.

“I don’t think they should have given up this space,” remarked Chuck Close. “You don’t give up the flagship.”

At dinner on the third floor, David Stark and his team created a memorial of sorts to all those who have contributed to the Whitney over the years. The walls were covered in a print of the signatures of every artist whose work is in the museum’s permanent collection. Ninety-eight paper lanterns, each covered in the name of an artist who has had a survey show there, hung from the ceiling. And each table represented a different year, and boasted a cube with the names of every exhibition from that particular period.

Whitney co-chairman Brooke Garber Neidich kicked things off, saying, “I came in tonight and I saw [Whitney Director] Adam [Weinberg] and [Whitney co-chair] Robert [J. Hurst] and [Whitney President] Neil [G. Bluhm] and I was so emotional. And they were like, Done.”

“It’s so rare that I go to an event like this and just look around,” said Weinberg. “I’m going to make everyone stand up tonight.” (He did, calling out the staff, former directors and just about every artist in the house.)

“Really, they all stand in for the more than 3,000 artists who have shown here,” he continued, explaining that they had started with 2,600 works of art and now had 21,000, along with almost 15 million visitors over the years.

The official opening of the new Whitney was announced—5.1.15, a palindrome in case you need a mnemonic device—and then Elvis Costello took to the stage for a special performance.

“I assured them I would only play hit tunes,” he said after starting with “Everyday I Write the Book.” “Problem is, I haven’t had any hits. You just heard the one.”