Alec, Avedon and…Donald?

by Michael Gross Photographed by Patrick McMullan/PMC
Monday, August 14, 2017

“It’s all gonna add up,” auctioneer Gabriela Palmieri said from the stage beneath the big white tent on the grounds of the home of Lucy and Steven Cookson in the Devon Colony in Amagansett’s highlands on Friday night. The Guild Hall Black and White Summer Gala, celebrating the opening of exhibits by two legendary East Enders, Richard Avedon and Jackson Pollack, was getting underway. “It’s expensive to do this very diverse programming,” Palmieri continued. “Please give something.”

A few moments later, when bidding on “Lil Uzi,” a print by artist Yung Jake, stalled at $2,400, and the crowd grew distracted and noisy, the evening’s star attraction asserted himself.

Guild Hall’s President, Alec Baldwin, rushed the stage. “Shhhh!” he said into the microphone.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had an Alec Baldwin drive-by before,” said Palmieri, who moments later raked in $3,000 for an art work estimated to be worth only a third of that.

Spirited bidding followed on a photograph of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat by Michael Halsband and a painted digital print by the evening’s honorary co-chair Eric Fischl (his wife and honorary co-chair, benefit host April Gornick, had set the festivites in motion), but the evening’s top lot, appropriately, was the last, a small version of Avedon’s most valuable work, “Dovima with Elephants,” which didn’t meet its $115,000 estimate but was gaveled down for an impressive $75,000 nonetheless.

The evening raised $850,000 to help support the institution’s year-round programming in its theater and museum, and in arts education.

The event honored philanthropist and photographer Bonnie Lautenberg, who was introduced by Michael Lynne, the film executive who serves as 2nd Vice Chair of the executive committee of the Guild Hall Board of Trustees. Lynne’s North Fork vineyard, Bedell Cellars, provided the Taste rosé that proved so popular during cocktails, several of the fifteen long tables insisted it be served at dinner alongside the proffered red and white.

Earlier in the evening, Baldwin, who’d attended the opening at Guild Hall with wife Hilaria and infant son Leonardo, then dropped the baby off at home and changed into the dress-code-mandated black-and-white before dinner, came to the stage to speak, introduced as someone “who walks the walk.” Before interviewing two young members of Guild Hall’s Teen Arts Council, Reilly Rose Schombs and Victoria Dudek-Tipton, about the program’s benefits, Baldwin had a moment to reflect on his own busy year, which saw him publish a memoir, as well as do a notable recurring impression on Saturday Night Live.

“How the hell did this all happen?” he asked. “I feel like I could walk down Fifth Avenue and shoot my supporters and they would still love me.”

Baldwin’s joke brought knowing laughter, but as sometimes happened when Richard Avedon tried to balance entertaining fashion with serious political commentary, some controversy did percolate to the surface during the dinner of chilled yellow tomato soup, smoked chicken with grilled peaches and purple kale, and chocolate bread pudding.

The Avedon exhibit, which fills two large rooms and was curated and hung by Guild Hall’s Director Christina Mossaides Strassfield, in collaboration with The Richard Avedon Foundation, run by his surviving son John Avedon and his wife Laura Avedon, spans the photographer’s entire career and includes examples of both his epoch-defining fashion and his starkly revealing documentary portrait work. It was one of those portraits—of the pre-presidential Donald J. Trump, his head floating like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon in a sea of inky blackness—that was the most discussed and derided image of the evening. That despite its being but one provocative picture in a show that also included Andy Warhol’s torso, bared to reveal the scars from his assassination, and Warhol Superstar Viva Hoffman, pregnant and squeezing one of her bared breasts.

It was both the inclusion of the Trump image, and its placement in a group that also included portraits of Hillary Clinton and Toni Morrison, that set off some grumbling in the clearly mostly-liberal East End crowd. A source told AVENUE that Trump’s inclusion and position were decided by the Avedon Foundation, which has, since its namesake’s death in 2004, seemed as interested in fighting over control of Avedon’s artistic legacy (threatening and even litigating against former assistants like Gideon Lewin and printer Ruedi Hofmann over ownership of photographs, for instance) as in promoting it.

And when an image of the evening’s menu, place setting and program, which featured a 1965 image from the show of model and longtime Avedon collaborator (and Water Mill resident) China Machado on the cover, was posted on Instagram, the ’90s supermodel Marpessa Hennink immediately wrote a comment that read in part, “disappointing that the Avedon estate didn’t allow China the use of some of their non-published work she had hoped to be able to include in the book she’d been working on so passionately in her last years…”

So it’s all the more important to note that the general reaction to the show, titled “Avedon’s America” (it runs through October 9, 2017), was overwhelmingly positive. Among the 350 museum patrons studying it intensely, and then discussing it over dinner afterward, were members of the Avedon family, Renee and Robert Belfer, Charles and Mary Jane Brock, Zo and Janna Bullock, Brown, Harris Stevens’ John Burger, Oliver and Sylvia Chantecaille, Kim Chartlton, Priyanka Chopra, who came with photographer Michael Avedon, Barbara and Steve Clarke, Guild Hall chairman Marty Cohen and wife Michele, Mary-Jane Marcasiano, Steven and Susan Jacobson, Adam Lindemann, Linda Lindenbaum, Linda Macklowe, Edward and Pamela Pantzer, Katharine and William Rayner, Jane Rose, Clifford and Toni Ross, G.E. Smith, Iris Smyles, Jeff and Patsy Tarr, Edwina von Gal, Olive Watson, Ken Wyse and Bettina Zerza. Many danced on into the night at an after-party featuring Questlove.


Michael Gross is AVENUE‘s Editor-in-Chief and the author of Focus: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers, which covers Richard Avedon’s life and work in depth, and will be published in paperback on August 29th.



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