The drop of molasses that fell on me last night at the Domino Sugar Factory was proof of authenticity.
Creative Time, known for transformative art experiences, had brought several hundred guests to the formerly industrial shores of Williamsburg for a gala.
The narrow, long, high-ceilinged space was lit up by Anne Pasternak, Creative Time’s president and artistic director, whose energy and smile could make you feel at home in a prison.
Robert Soros, Alex Tisch and Charles Rockefeller were among those seated at banquet tables decorated with overturned candlesticks. Their dinner, orchestrated by Mario Batali, included kale salad, lentils and fresh ricotta followed by a variety of pastas, all served family style.
Remarks were minimal. Julian Schnabel, the evening’s honoree, gave thanks to friends and supporters.
“Every time I am able to pay for a meal I’m surprised,” he said, as making art is “not something rational.”
Dick Cavett noted that he and Schnabel both surf. Laurie Anderson gave a beautiful performance on the violin.
The dressing-up of the building included Schnabel sculptures near the dance floor and paintings he made the day Cy Twombly died, hung near diners.
“Doesn’t it look like the whole wall is a Schnabel?” said writer Bob Colacello, looking at dark-brown streaks around one of the large canvases. Nope, it was molasses.
Ted Lee, the cookbook author, advised not getting too close to the wall, where he said a foul odor seemed strongest.
“It feels like there’s been a lot of partying here before us,” said Lauren Santo Domingo, co-founder and creative director of Moda Operandi.
“It’s a nice change of scenery,” said her husband, Andres Santo Domingo, who in fact doesn’t work too far away: “My record label, Mexican Summer, is down the street in Fort Greene.”
The testament to Creative Time’s magical powers is that no one at the party wanted to leave. Actress Marisa Tomei was among those dancing just a few feet from where I was slimed.
If dining in an old factory wasn’t completely glamorous, the first part of the evening more than made up for that. Outside the factory, guests watched the sun set over the East River with a close-up view of the Williamsburg Bridge.
“I’ve sold that bridge twice already, and I’m about to sell it a third time to an art collector,” said Jim Chanos, founder of Kynikos Associates Ltd.
Fab Five Freddy, who used to have an art studio down the street, met Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management Co.
“You’re the guy tearing this down to build luxury condos?”
“For realz,” Walentas said.
At the American Museum of Natural History, the famous 94-foot fiberglass blue whale hung over the 2013 PEN Literary Gala.
MSNBC’s Willie Geist presided, guests dined on grilled asparagus and chicken, and more than $1 million was raised to support persecuted writers, journalists and publishers around the world.
“This is the most successful gala in PEN’s 27-year history,” said Joanna Coles, editor of Cosmopolitan and co-chairman of the event. “Such support is a testament to the urgent need for PEN.”
She told guests to send Twitter notes about PEN to the world: “We want you to take out your phones, but keep your ringers off,” Coles said.
The event honored Philip Roth with the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award. He spoke eloquently about the Eastern European writers who for decades he and a few colleagues, including William Styron and Arthur Miller, helped support and get published.
Of course he finished with a story: One such writer was interrogated by police about the reason for Roth’s annual visits. “Have you read his books?” the writer said. “He comes for the girls!”
The PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award went to Ayse Berktay, who is being held in a Turkish prison for her work on behalf of Kurdish rights.
PEN trustee Barbara Goldsmith, who underwrites the award, said that it recognizes writers in peril.
“When I started it, it was to attract media attention,” Goldsmith said. “And now tonight marks a place where we’ve taken a new step: It’s all of you who will not let those people be forgotten.”
(Amanda Gordon and James Tarmy are writers and photographers for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include David M. Shribman and Hephzibah Anderson on books.