Bankers, Fashion Models, Dress Painters Mingle at Whitney Gala

Max Azria and Lubov Azria
Designer Max Azria and Lubov Azria, BCBG Max Azria Group Inc.'s chief creative officer at the Whitney Art Party in New York, on June 17, 2009. Tonight's event seeks to raise more than $500,000 for the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program, which trains artists and curators. Source: Paul Wilmot Communications via Bloomberg

At the Whitney Museum of American Art’s gala tonight, devotees of Max Azria may want to avert their eyes when four artists paint the designer’s silky white gowns.

The museum’s annual Art Party draws investment bankers sipping Belvedere vodka and eying artworks up for auction. Fashion models turn heads while a DJ spins Lady Gaga. With its convergence of young entertainers, fashionistas, artists and traders, the gala, now in its 15th year, is one of the spring fundraising season’s most sought-after tickets.

“This event is about supporting American artists, and it really goes to the young generation who have a point of view in expressing themselves,” said Kiev native Lubov Azria, chief creative officer of the Los Angeles-based BCBG Max Azria Group, which has sponsored the event since 2007. Lubov is married to the Tunisian-born, Paris-raised designer Max Azria, the group’s chief executive officer, whose fans include Kate Winslet, Halle Berry and Alicia Keys.

Organized by the Whitney Contemporaries, museum patrons ages 21 to 40, the event is expected to raise more than $500,000 to support its Independent Study Program. The highly selective art-education school, launched in 1968, offers multidisciplinary training to architects, fine artists, critics and curators.

The program’s alumni include filmmaker and painter Julian Schnabel, visual artist Jenny Holzer and Kathryn Bigelow, who was a painter before turning to filmmaking and this year winning an Academy Award for directing “The Hurt Locker.”

Whitney Club

The Art Party can be traced back to the Whitney Studio started in Greenwich Village in 1914 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the museum. She would invite her artist friends to come to the club and make artworks while guests ate and drank.

To follow that tradition, former ISP students Ellen Harvey, Ryan Humphrey, Liz Magic Laser and Jason Middlebrook will each create an original work of art on a white Azria dress. Attendees will be able to bid on about 70 artworks that are part of the event’s online auction. An Azria spokesman said the painted dresses will tour BCBG stores worldwide.

“What I love about this party is that the people who come will support their peer group,” Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo, a Whitney trustee and one of the party’s organizers, said in a phone interview.

‘Bon Chic’

Fans of the Art Party say that BCBG’s name, which stands for “bon chic, bon genre” (good style, good attitude) sums up the event’s allure. Commodities trader-turned-disc jockey, Paul Sevigny, actor Chloe Sevigny’s brother, will pump dance music and remixed pop songs into the room. An army of mixologists will pour from an open bar until 1 a.m.

“One of the reasons that you have this mystery and magic is that you have a very fashionable crowd that cares deeply about modern art,” says Peter Fitzpatrick of Bacolet Capital Management LLC, a member of the Whitney Contemporaries executive committee.

The Whitney Art Party is tonight at 82 Mercer Street (between Broome and Spring streets) in Manhattan from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. A limited number of tickets are available. For information, e-mail with name, contact information and number of tickets to be purchased.

(Patrick Cole is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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