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Gala Fatigue Means Sharp Elbows in New York’s Party Scene

The scene at New York City Ballet's gala last night. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
The scene at New York City Ballet's gala last night. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

May 9 (Bloomberg) -- Running into the same people is a mostly good hazard of the charity benefit high season. Call it the social Iron Man or a sorority rush for grown-ups.

Dan Loeb at the New York City Ballet Spring Gala last night joined Barbara and John Vogelstein for a supper of roasted halibut, a week and a half after they’d all attended the Success Academy Charter Schools gala.

Philip Falcone and his wife, Lisa Maria, sat with Alicia Keys and Swiss Beatz, their same table company at a benefit for Keys’s AIDS nonprofit Keep a Child Alive back in November.

And when John Paulson took his wife to the dance floor, they passed many of the women they’d seen the day before at the Central Park Conservancy’s “hat lunch.”

The tent set up in the Conservatory Garden for this event, which drew 1,300 guests and raised $3.5 million, was full again last night with another 1,300 guests for the Crystal Party, a benefit for Mount Sinai Health System, which raised almost $4 million.

“We have a lot of our friends here, so it does feel like a social evening, but a social evening with an extraordinarily good purpose,” said KKR & Co.’s’ Marc Lipschultz.

Across the room Peter May, Mount Sinai’s chairman and president of Trian Fund Management LP, sat with family.

“We make it happen because we have such an enormous constituency who loves Mount Sinai,” May said.

Small World

Sometimes the benefit circuit feels like a very small world. I saw Gabrielle Bacon, wife of Louis Bacon, and Lynn Nesbit, the power literary agent, twice in one day: First, at a New York Public Library lunch where the editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, interviewed novelists Zadie Smith and Jeffrey Eugenides, and a few hours later at a benefit for New York’s Drawing Center, where Prince Charles was honored for founding the Prince’s Drawing School.

Nesbit’s reasons for being at the bookish event included the fact Eugenides is a client. (She also joined him at PEN American Center’s gala honoring Uyghur writer and scholar Ilham Tohti, a prisoner in China.) At the Drawing Center event, she was just a proud mom of its curator Claire Gilman.

Bacon said she likes the library lunch for its substance. (The discussion dealt with the sense of place in fiction.) She went to the Drawing Center event because her husband is cousins with Frances Beatty Adler, co-chairman of the Soho-based exhibition and program space.

“Cousins from Wilmington, North Carolina are like *this*,” Adler said, twining two fingers together.

Favorite Artists

At every gala, seats get filled by family, friends and business associates. It can get competitive.

“We lost half of our guests to the National Center for Learning Disabilities dinner,” Jane Sadaka, also a Drawing Center co-chairman, said good-naturedly.

Her husband, Ned Sadaka, idolizes Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. She is passionate about drawings by sculptors, such as Isamu Noguchi and Joel Shapiro.

“I like to see the process,” Jane Sadaka said. “And drawings, I have room for. You can’t buy a lot of sculpture unless you live in a vast park.”

British furniture maker David Linley said his cousin the Prince of Wales “was chuffed” to be honored for helping children become more sensitive to the world around them by studying drawing.

Bored at an almost empty table, I decided to instigate some actual drawing by artists.

Dinner Doodles

Will Cotton obliged, rendering a piece of wrapped candy, and E.V. Day drew a cat nestled inside a shoe with the caption, “I’m better than a balloon dog.”

Natalie Frank drew an eye being pecked out by a bird. The dark sketch is a detail of a painting she’s been working on illustrating the penance of Cinderella’s step-sisters in the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. These paintings will go on view at the Drawing Center on April 16, 2015.

More drawings entered my reporter’s notebook at a benefit for ArtsConnection. Artist Vik Muniz, after telling HBO Chief Executive Officer Richard Plepler he’d like a role on “Game of Thrones,” drew a stick figure with an artist’s palette for a body. “Palette! Not Strawberry!” he wrote above it. Sarah Jessica Parker said as a kid she doodled “boxes inside boxes inside boxes,” and liked to write her name in bubble letters, but no more. “People don’t keep pens at hand anymore,” she said, “they like to scroll on their phones.”

Sugar Sculptures

One of ArtsConnection’s projects is creating a musical theater program for students on the autism spectrum. This year on a visit to their school I saw the kids light up rehearsing a few scenes from “Aladdin.” Later that week they became the first and only autistic group to perform at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, where they won two awards.

The Creative Time benefit on Tuesday night brought Will Cotton and E.V. Day back together around an installation of sculptures made of sugar by Kara Walker at the former Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg.

Perhaps all the sugar in the world should be used to make art. That was my feeling after talking to Dennis Paul and Coralie Charriol Paul about the documentary “Fed Up,” which examines among other things sugar’s role in obesity. The Pauls, through their nonprofit React to Film, are bringing the film to college campuses and high schools along with a curriculum to engage students in discussions about health and our food system.

Let’s face it, though: dessert can sometimes be the best part of a gala, signaling, for one, that bed is not far off.

Sweet Tooths

I found plenty of sweet tooths to talk with about the subject. Cotton, known for his paintings of confections, said the best dessert he’s had recently was an apple cake made by his partner, Rose Dergan, “almost all apples, and very spicy.”

Creative Time’s president Anne Pasternak said she likes birthday cake.

Ajit Jain, president of the reinsurance division at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., at the Mount Sinai party, said he likes “anything chocolate,” preferably dark chocolate.

At a benefit for the Innocence Project, John Grisham said he’s in the middle of writing his next book and is not much of a sweet tooth, instead ordering the cheese course. (He recommended the one at Gotham Bar & Grill.) Tony Goldwyn, who plays the president on “Scandal,” said his favorite is sticky toffee pudding.

By far the sweetest moment of this gala season has been hearing from the exonerated men and women freed by the work of the Innocence Project after years of being wrongly imprisoned.

“The stories, they’re just devastating,” said Gordon DuGan, CEO of Gramercy Property Trust Inc., a trustee who was honored. “I can’t believe that the people who go through that come out and are able to adjust again to society and do so without the sense of vengeance that I think I would have if this happened to me.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Amanda Gordon in New York at agordon01@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christine Harper at charper@bloomberg.net Steve Bailey, Jon Menon

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