On Monday night, a step troupe -- a group of students from Success Academy Charter Schools, ebullient, loud and in sync -- performed for Dan Loeb, John Griffin, Boaz Weinstein and Paul Singer at Success’s annual fundraiser at Cipriani 42nd Street.
Meanwhile on the eighth floor of the new Whitney Museum of American Art in the Meatpacking District, Andrew Hall, Tom Lee, John Phelan and Ray McGuire were greeted by Florine Stettheimer’s “Sun,” 1931, a painting of flowers and sky radiating optimism.
These two events, one supporting an education model that raises academic achievement for so many low-income students, the other inaugurating a temple of art in an ascending quarter of luxury, had more in common than one might think (besides a preponderance of finance types): they both marked ambitious undertakings -- for Success in its classrooms, for the Whitney with a vast, flexible space that features outdoor terraces, a Danny Meyer restaurant and a theater.
Another thread to be made here, as corny as it sounds, is that Success and the Whitney share an abstract end-game: elevating its students or visitors.
As Whitney Director Adam Weinberg put it, engaging in what passes for museum-building humor, “Art is what separates cement from people.”
That doesn’t mean the cement at the Whitney isn’t special; many guests found it so at Monday’s low-key black-tie soiree, where blueprints, ferns and freesia decorated tables, Rufus Wainwright sang and miniature ice cream cones were served.
“There were 1,000 people working every day to build it; you can feel the pride, you can see it from every detail,” said its architect, Renzo Piano, making a champagne toast in the Kenneth C. Griffin Hall.
Standing in a crowd that included Cindy Sherman, Brice Marden and Michael R. Bloomberg, majority owner of Bloomberg LP, artist Jasper Johns said, “Everyone seems to agree the place is terrific and that it looks better from the inside than the outside.” Johns also appreciated seeing art he’d never seen before juxtaposed with art he knew.
“It’s fantastic to see it come to fruition,” said Leonard Lauder, the former Whitney chairman who first recruited Piano.
“They’ve set the bar on a new level for museums in New York and the rest of the country,” said Andrew Hall seated for dinner next to Whitney chief curator Donna De Salvo, whom he described as a “good friend” with a “laser-like intellect.”
“Every time I talk to Donna I feel I learn something,” Hall said.
Success hopes its teachers have the same effect on its students, whose subjects include math, chess, step and photography. Success also emphasizes parental involvement and pushing teachers and students to do better.
What Success doesn’t invest in is cement: it co-locates in New York City public school buildings instead of constructing its own buildings.
For Loeb, the stakes are high: he likened Success’s “fighting for children” mission to that of Navy SEALs fighting for the country’s security. Then he quoted Steve Martin: “If I screw up raising my kids, nothing I achieve will matter much.” (That’s from the film “Cheaper by the Dozen,” by the way.)
Success’s event raised $9.4 million and honored Eli and Edythe Broad, early funders of the school network. Eli Broad’s wish: that Eva Moskowitz, Success’s CEO, could be cloned.
No one suggested cloning the Whitney or its Pollocks and Calders. The Whitney’s director earned praise from Dan Neidich, whose wife, Brooke Garber Neidich, is a co-chairman of the museum:
“This isn’t like a job for Adam, or the prestige of being head of a museum,” Neidich said. “This is about art for him, and that’s what Brooke’s about, too. They love the fact that the museum is about artists.”