Jeff Koons, in a Dior suit, greeted Donald Marron, Eli Broad and Tom Lee in the lobby of the Whitney Museum of American Art last night, then talked soybeans.
“We have a farm in Pennsylvania -- we grow corn and soybeans on a large scale,” Koons said in an interview, a week after an inflatable dolphin of his sold for $5 million at Art Basel.
It’s hard to imagine a farmer filling up the Whitney for a career retrospective. Then again, there’s a big pile of multi-colored something called “Play-Doh” in the show, the largest the museum has ever devoted to a single artist. And also a few self-portraits showing a young, naked and muscular Koons ready for hard labor.
“We love nature,” Koons said, standing next to his son Sean as he named some of his favorite outdoor activities -- swimming and, especially, snowboarding for its test of balance.
He said he chooses Dior suits because he likes their cut. They’re one of his few sartorial indulgences.
“I don’t wear a watch,” Koons said. “The only jewelry I wear is my wedding ring. My wife wears jewelry -- she’s wearing one of mine right now.” Around Justine Koons’s neck was a miniature gold rabbit.
Whitney co-chairman Brooke Garber Neidich (wearing her company’s Sidney Garber jewelry) greeted guests just a few days after she and her husband Dan Neidich were in Italy for the marriage of their son Jon, a partner in the restaurant Acme, to Alessandra Brawn at the Villa Salviati in Migliarino Pisano. (Guests included Lauren and Andres Santo Domingo; the attire was “La Dolce Vita.”)
At the museum were Steve Cohen and Larry Gagosian gazing at a pink “Moon,” as well as casino boss Steve Wynn, about a month after he paid $28.2 million for a Koons stainless steel sculpture of spinach-eating sailor Popeye.
The show, which opens to the public on Friday and whose supporters include Anne Dias Griffin and Ken Griffin and Brett and Daniel Sundheim, covers Koons’s career from 1978. Some of the earliest works feature Hoover vacuum cleaners and basketballs suspended in water tanks. Warren Kanders, chairman of Black Diamond Inc., lent the ad-like canvas “I Could Go for Something Gordon’s,” one of my favorites.
Among the artists on the scene were Diane Tuft (whose exquisite photographs of Antarctica are on view at Marlborough Gallery on 57th Street), Cindy Sherman, Glenn Ligon, Marilyn Minter, Brice Marden and Taryn Simon.
Director Adam Weinberg, presiding at one of the final major events in the Whitney’s uptown building before its move to a new Renzo Piano-designed home in the meatpacking district, was part of the welcoming committee, along with Chief Curator Donna De Salvo and the show’s curator Scott Rothkopf.
Dakis Joannou -- the Greek industrialist with a yacht painted by Koons and a collection that the artist curated into a show at the New Museum in 2010 -- talked with artist Urs Fischer. Russian billionaire Alexey Kuzmichev, a co-founder of Alfa Group, walked through with his wife and son, who jumped up at down at the site of inflatable seals.
Also on hand: Ian Wardropper, director of the Frick Collection; Jonathan and Lizzie Tisch; Steven Kolb of the Council of Fashion Designers of America; Stephanie Seymour and the Art Production Fund’s Yvonne Force Villareal (like Koons, in Dior). From the auction houses: Lisa Dennison and Jamie Niven of Sotheby’s and John Good and Laura Paulson of Christie’s. From the gallery world: David Zwirner, Jerome and Emmanuelle de Noirmont, and Paul Kasmin.
The evening also included a trip to the Central Park Zoo for a dinner sponsored by Hennes & Mauritz, one of the backers of the Whitney’s retrospective. Starting July 17 at its new Fifth Avenue store and online, H&M will sell a leather handbag with a printed image of a yellow Koons Balloon Dog for $49.95 (Alek Wek wore one last night). It’s the Swedish fast-fashion retailer’s first collaboration with an artist.
Given the number of animals represented in the show -- a life-size porcelain bear with policeman (lent by Jeffrey Deitch), a kangaroo-shaped mirror, a blue and yellow stainless-steel elephant with pink ears, to name a few -- the zoo was a pretty brilliant choice of locale.
Collector Amy Phelan (who with her husband John Phelan will be hosting a wine- and art-themed benefit in Aspen in August to open the Aspen Art Museum’s new building, designed by Shigeru Ban) celebrated with an Instagram picture of the wine for the night, including a bottle of 1995 Chateau La Fleur-Petrus Pomerol.
At tables set with magenta orchids, the meal started with a yellowfin tuna salad with coriander, spring greens, baby fennel and crispy quinoa. The main course was roasted beef tenderloin with olive-oil poached new potatoes, followed by New Jersey-grown strawberries and rhubarb-champagne sorbet.