Scene Last Night: Griffin, Debbie Harry, Christo, Marissa Mayer

Whitney Groundbreaking Gala
Robert Hurst and Brooke Neidich, co-chairmen of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Neil G. Bluhm, president of the museum. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Under a party tent at the new downtown site of the Whitney Museum of American Art last night, shovels hung from the ceiling, Debbie Harry performed, and guests included Citadel LLC’s Ken Griffin, whose wife, Anne, is a trustee.

The artist Christo dug into grilled cheese, tomato soup and meatloaf. Real shovels will dig into the ground on a vacant lot in the Meatpacking District Tuesday morning.

Yes, the Groundbreaking Gala was a little early, but understandable after decades of scrapped building plans. On Tuesday night, it will throw a less formal party.

If all goes according to plan, by 2015 the Whitney will have a Renzo Piano-designed building with 50,000 square feet of gallery space.

“It’s going to work for the art and the artists,” said Walton Street Capital LLC’s Neil G. Bluhm, president of the Whitney board. “It’s going to be like Willie Mays, it’s going to do everything.”

Bluhm was standing next to museum co-chairmen Robert Hurst and Brooke Neidich.

“We’re here, right on our site right now,” Hurst said, grinning. “We’ve been here before but now we own it!”

Neidich seemed to know everyone in the room. A few of the people she pointed out: artist Tauba Auerbach; Chris Jennings, the son of the late news anchor Peter Jennings; Darius Bikoff, the now-retired founder of Vitamin Water, who is a new trustee of the Whitney; and real-estate developer Scott Resnick, a vice president of the board. (It takes a lot of trustees to raise $720 million, the estimated cost of the project.)

Artists Connecting

Adam Weinberg, the director of the museum, wants the new building to “be alive, not just a repository,” he said. “One of the key measures of our success will be how the artist community comes around and connects with it.”

For many the location will make a difference.

“I’ll be popping in three times a month rather than every few months,” said artist Irit Batsry, who lives in the East Village.

“It’ll be a three-block walk from my house,” said Matthew Blank, chairman and chief executive officer of Showtime Networks Inc., who collects photography. Google Inc.’s New York headquarters are also about three blocks away, which is one of the reasons why Marissa Mayer, a Google vice president, received the museum’s American Art Award at the event (even though she lives in San Francisco).


Mayer said she is not an artist -- couldn’t draw a geranium if her life depended on it, in fact -- but she has created a platform that has encouraged thousands of children to make art: the Doodle 4 Google contest, for which children submit designs for the Google logo.

“Any way we can foster imagination, creativity and innovation is really a wonderful thing,” Mayer said.

This year’s first-place winner, Matteo Lopez’s space-themed design, is featured on the Google home page today. Several winning entries will be displayed at the Whitney through June 16.

Mayer’s award from the Whitney was a green-grass Ellsworth Kelly painting, which somewhat matched her green Oscar de la Renta dress.

Many Google staff doodlers were in attendance and requested their own party favor: one of the shovels. “They said they’ll send one over,” said Google designer Ryan Germick.

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

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