“NUMBERS To dream of them denotes wealth and happiness,” reads the text on a canvas early on in Glenn Ligon’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The work was among the favorites last night from a cozy first peek at the Ligon exhibition, titled “America,” which opens tomorrow. Collectors Claudia Cisneros, Eli Broad and Peter S. Kraus, chairman and chief executive of AllianceBernstein LP/USA, came to admire, as did artist Jeff Koons.
The Whitney served pan-roasted red snapper, glazed Seckel pears, and Brussels sprouts. Ligon sat with the museum’s director, Adam Weinberg.
The artist wore a pin on his lapel featuring a photograph of a nipple. The pin, by Yoko Ono, came from the party’s other Glenn, Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art.
After dinner, guests climbed up the stairs to the lobby, turned into a lounge with royal-blue and hot-pink spotlights and bouquets of red poppies. Broad, whose art foundation lent three pieces to the show, took a seat on a black couch with his wife. A white furry rug lay at their feet. Close at hand a two-tiered silver dessert tray displayed pink macaroons and passion-fruit marshmallows.
“It’s a great show,” Broad said in his signature cheerleader lilt, which goes well with his California tan.
The New York-style cheerleader was Brooke Garber Neidich, co-chairman of the Whitney. No tan, but a lot of sparkle, with earrings she herself designed of titanium and diamonds.
“This is one of the most amazing nights,” Neidich said, “one of the homiest and coolest.”
Ligon’s dealer in New York, Roland Augustine, advised a guest to visit the room with the vertical paintings on doors and another that features wood crates based on the life of a slave who mailed himself to freedom. “It really is a poignant, tender portrait of a man,” Augustine said.
For Scott Rothkopf, the curator of the show, this is his first major solo at the museum. His mother was present.
“My goal is to show how incredibly beautiful Glenn’s work is,” Rothkopf said. “People are used to seeing it in a critical way. I want them to see the visceral, emotional, and formal qualities.”
Neidich nailed the art in a line: “Glenn pushes you but he doesn’t scold you,” Neidich said. “I’d like to meet his mother.”
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the art and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)