“You’re probably not going to be surprised when you hear that the school doesn’t normally look like this,” said New York Academy of Art president David Kratz, a jovial character who stands at odds with the exacting, no-nonsense-type one might expect to find at the helm of one of the city’s greatest art schools. He continued, “we don’t normally dress like this, or eat like this, or drink this kind of wine. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to, but we do it once a year.”
Kratz was addressing an audience seated on the ground floor of the Academy, which was strung with a zig-zag of twinkly lights, filled with tables festooned with springy floral arrangements, on which a meal of perfect white asparagus and poached Bass filets, prepared by chef extraordinaire Daniel Boulud, was served. The room was populated with an ideal mix of recognizable faces and behind-the-scenesters—Swizz Beatz, Helena Christensen, Coco Rocha, Brooke Shields, and Naomi Watts added a bit of glamour to tables filled with philanthropists and patrons of the school. And, of course, the art world was well-represented with David Salle, Will Cotton, Lee Quinones, and Paul Kasmin in attendance.
The purpose of the evening was twofold: to celebrate Brian Donnelly, a.k.a KAWS, a.k.a the man behind the 115-foot-long, inflatable Mickey Mouse with X-ed out eyes that bobbed in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor last month, kicking off the city’s buzzy Basel fair. And secondly, to support those KAWS-to-be, students of the Academy whose works were on display in the galleries that occupy the upper floors of the building.
The Tribeca Ball started early at 6:30 p.m., welcoming guests to wander through the facilities and meet the promising student artists whose works were for sale. The displays ranged from academically masterful floral still lifes to thought-provoking paintings depicting iPhone screens illuminated with nudes. “I hope to take the negative and immoral connotations away from the images,” explained the artist.
The preview was just the right level of crowded with plenty of amusement. Cocktail servers were replaced with carnivalesque creatures, heavily sequined stilt-walkers who cradled bottles of Bollinger Champagne ready to pour into the empty flutes of passersby. The art crawl culminated with a glitzy exhibition of Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, the evening’s sponsor. Shields could be seen snapping pictures of her favorite pieces.
Later on at dinner, Kratz brought the man of honor to the podium, jokingly pointing out that, “He went to art school and won’t say the name, but the initials are S.V.A.” No matter, Kratz would present KAWS with his honorary doctorate degree from the Academy. Donnelly, a man of few words, came up to give a blink-and-you-missed-it acceptance speech. And then it was onto Paddle8’s Alexander Gilkes to auction off a Kaws painting and a Van Cleef necklace, raising a total of $70,000 for the students of the Academy—the entire evening’s fundraising brought the number up to an even lovelier $850,000.