He is an illusionist par excellence, an icon among artists, a master puppeteer, a revered theater producer and a forecaster of trends-he is Robert Wilson. While the Hamptons is not renowned for its dynamic art scene it has over the years become a mecca of culture where artists such as Chuck Close and Jeff Koons gather to fraternize with fellow creatives; at the top of the Hampton’s pyramid is Robert Wilson. Wilson could be relaxing in St. Tropez enjoying his legendary status amongst Europe’s social set but instead chooses to tend to his labor of love-the students at the Watermill Center. The Watermill Center was founded by Wilson in 1992 as an interdisciplinary laboratory for the arts supporting young and emerging artists through its year-round Artist Residency Program and International Summer Program, as well as Education Programs, exhibitions and events open to the public. My friend an art aficionado said that “Watermill” was the Julliard of Modern Art. Wilson prepares for the Watermill Center Benefit all year as the money raised pays for half of the annual budget. The cocktail tickets which were priced at $450 for early birds and $600 were sold out as well as the $1,350 dinner tickets with only $2,000 and $2,500 tickets available. The evening was sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels and featured installations from over 200 summer program participants from 30 nations including Laurie Anderson, Oliver Beer, Bianca Casady, Dawn Kasper, Cleon Peterson and Christopher Knowles.
The more than 1,000 guests who attended this event were an eclectic mix of artists, philanthropists, businessmen and entertainers. Wilson himself looks more like a Hollywood actor than an artist and year after year he attracts celebrities and luminaries from around the world. Last year Robert Downey Jr. and Isabelle Huppert joined Wilson and in years past Lady Gaga and Alan Cumming enjoyed the gala. The evening began at 6PM on Saturday July 28th with the crowd anxiously anticipating the 25th anniversary Gala’s “Time Bomb” theme which was a look into the future. Guests walked through the enchanted forest with artists in white masks, hanging from ropes, and naked in a rainbow pile, shocking and aweing the large crowds. Philanthropists Audrey and Martin Gruss, Jonathan and Somers Farkas, Maria Fishel, Toby Milstein and Inga Maren Otto came to pay homage to Wilson. Peter Beard, Marina Abramovic, and Isabella Rossellini were also on hand granting star power to the evening.
The cocktail hour concluded two and a half hours later and select guests made their way into the tent for dinner which included an exciting live auction and performance art. The evening began with Wilson paying tribute to his friend of 47 years Pierre Berge who died in 2017. Berge, the co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent, was a child who was always reading and loved theater, opera, journalism, fashion and politics, according to Wilson. Berge who made a major contribution towards the 20,000 square foot Watermill building in 1990 was “a world minister” and Wilson sent him “love for now and forever.” After dinner of couscous, fish, beet salad and various meats had been served it was time for the business portion of the evening with renowned auctioneer Simon de Pury flying in from London to “perform” the Wilson auction-his 48th one. De Pury was sweating profusely on this humid evening; nevertheless his enthusiasm was unabated as he exhorted members to bid on the pieces by Keith Haring, Nan Goldin and Roy Lichtenstein.
The first item auctioned was dinner at Cipriani with “goddess” and artist Marina Abramovic who informed the bidders they could not use technological equipment during the dinner and must abstain from sex, television and talking about Donald Trump for three days prior. Despite these stringent requirements two ladies bid $35,000 for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Abramovic is a huge fan of Wilson’s and has collaborated with Wilson and Lady Gaga on numerous projects. Some other items auctioned were a huge Roy Lichtenstein painting for $95,000 with de Pury playfully remarking that “size does matter” and two “Snowy Owl” painting by Wilson which sold for $60,000 each. Moreover the one-of-a-kind portrait by Tseng Kwong Chi, who died of AIDS at the age of 39, of Keith Haring was sold to Inga Maren Otto for $75,000 above the estimated value of $50,000. Inga Maren Otto is a major supporter of Wilson’s who started the Inga Maren Fellowship program in 2016 and gave an additional $50,000 at the event. Otto is a magnificent and “impossibly chic” woman who is a mix between Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. Her husband of 48 years, Werner Otto, was a major entrepreneur and Inga now spends much of her time distributing her money to charity. Tonight, Inga was wearing a pink Chanel sweater with an Armani skirt and Armani shoes with her hair pulled back in a bun. If I was a designer Otto would be my muse as very few women possess her elegance. Otto, who was seated next to Wilson, clapped vociferously when Wilson asked singer Helga Davis to inspire the crowd with her haunting voice-and she did just that. At 11:30 PM guests headed to the after party where desserts and a DJ kept the crowd going until way after most Hamptonites bedtime.
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