Art Parties

Remember When the MoMA PS1 Gala Had Strippers? The Institution Is Beckoning a Return to That Rowdiness

Photography by Jenna Bascom. All images courtesy of MoMA PS1.

An unexpected heat spike made MoMA PS1’s annual gala, held in a tented courtyard, a particularly appealing proposition last night. The temperature matched the warmth circulating around Connie Butler, who took over the helm of the storied institution earlier this year. 

Galleries and curators were out in full force, with a partially large contingent from Gladstone to rally behind, as well as honoree Ian Cheng and artist Rirkrit Tiravanija, whose recent retrospective at the museum seemed to signal a return to the institution’s rowdier days. 

Ian Cheung. Photography by Jenna Bascom.

The party kicked off loud with Grammy-nominated ensemble Innov Gnawa playing on the patio. The good vibrations circulated alongside well-heeled guests like actor Matt Dillon and comedian Julio Torres, who dipped in and out of the icy oyster beds laid out by chef Omar Tate. Rarely is gala food commendable. This was. 

Dinner followed suit. The family-style dishes kept people tucked in for a set of speeches, starting with the legendary curator Kathy Halbreich, who kept the inevitable subway noise at bay by giving herself over to a heartfelt call to patronage

She also managed to keep up with the tradition set last year by James Turrell, in reminding the audience of founder Alanna Heiss’s unorthodox genius. “Remember when Alanna invited strippers to the first gala?” Halbreich asked the audience. “I can see Mike Bloomberg does from his face.” 

Then it was on to the artists of honor—Ian Cheng and Kevin Beasley—both of whom shared impassioned stories of their early tangles with the institution and the way it informed the artists they are today. Cheng credited Ruba Katrib and Peter Eleey specifically, with single-handedly changing the course of his career. These kinds of personal anecdotes imbued the evening with a gravity that lasted far beyond dinner and the dance set by BEARCAT.