• Party ushers in Met Museum takeover of the former Whitney digs
  • Tom Hill, Leon Black, Tony James mingle at Met Breuer opening

Disorientation can make a party, and it was certainly one of the factors at play at the Met Breuer Tuesday night, where an elite group of people in finance and the art world gathered for an opening.

Imagine being a Metropolitan Museum of Art trustee, bracing for your 100th dinner in the Temple of Dendur. You know the place so well you could weave through its galleries blindfolded. Then you arrive at another Met reception with silver trays and linen napkins, except everything is different. What was once another museum is now yours, and that’s pretty exhilarating.

Nightlife returns to the Whitney, now the Met Breuer
Nightlife returns to the Whitney, now the Met Breuer
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
Laurel and Paul Britton and Adam Weinberg
Laurel and Paul Britton and Adam Weinberg
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

(The Met Breuer is the museum’s new space for modern and contemporary art, located in the building Marcel Breuer designed for the Whitney Museum of Art on New York’s Madison Avenue. After almost 50 years there, last year the Whitney moved to bigger, newly constructed digs designed by Renzo Piano. The Met has an eight-year lease with the Whitney.)

At the opening party two common, if contradictory, refrains were: "It feels like the Whitney" and "It feels like the Met." That’s to say the building is not much changed, and the exhibitions carry a Met signature that goes way beyond a proliferation of wall text.

"Some of the most beautiful paintings ever painted are gathered here," said Elizabeth Easton, co-founder and director of the Center for Curatorial Leadership, standing near a Lucian Freud work and steps away from a roomful of J.M.W. Turners. "You feel the power of the Met. No one else could do this."

Lisa Dennison with Christine and Andy Hall
Lisa Dennison with Christine and Andy Hall
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Astenbeck Capital Management’s Andy Hall singled out the El Greco hanging on the third floor as one of his favorite moments in the exhibition, which surveys unfinished works from the Renaissance to the present.

The theme was an "interesting concept," he said. "A work of art is never finished." He and his wife, Christine, whose Hall Art Foundation is currently showing Warhols from their collection, pondered the idea of an artist coming to see his work, and then deciding to change it.

Leon and Debra Black
Leon and Debra Black
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

How does a new space change the way the Met parties? For starters, in the Breuer’s lobby, everyone is easier to spot and maybe even looks cooler than in the Great Hall, which has a giant flower arrangement in the center that seriously impedes sight lines.

The Met Breuer’s eclectic ceiling lamps shone brightly on Thomas Campbell, the Met’s director, as he greeted the parade: Leon Black, Blair Effron, Richard Chilton, Leonard Lauder. One of the most fashionable in this crowd was Debra Black, who wore Chanel flats with pearls on the heel and a matching purse.

The closest art space to the lobby is the Tony and Amie James Gallery, where Vijay Iyer has a residency, meaning he’ll be on-site, performing; when he isn’t, there’s video of his piano-playing. One-half of the gallery’s namesakes, Blackstone’s president, was on hand, as well.

Tony James and Sheena Wagstaff
Tony James and Sheena Wagstaff
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Evercore Partners CEO Ralph Schlosstein, Capstone Investment Advisors founder Paul Britton, real-estate developer Aby Rosen, and artist Julie Mehretu were spotted in the galleries, where the mood was reserved and contemplative.

On the third floor
On the third floor
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The lobby and the fifth floor were the social hubs of the evening, with a most beautiful buffet offering sea-bass crudo, deviled eggs, pastrami-cured steak sandwiches and braised calamari (prepared by the team that will be cooking for Estela Breuer, the restaurant opening in the building in a few months). The lounge-style seating and contemporary music at a generous volume created a nightclub atmosphere -- not exactly a customary Met vibe, unless you count the Costume Institute benefit.

On the fifth floor
On the fifth floor
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

There were no celebrities to spot here, though. It was more of an art-loving crowd. At a small round table with standard dinner chairs, collector and Met Museum trustee Ann Tenenbaum enthused about a Robert Smithson work made of sand and mirrors, while Jan Greenberg, mother of Salon 94 owner Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, raved about the pairing of a Rodin sculpture with works by Bruce Nauman.

Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, reflected on what it was like to return to the building she worked in for more a decade as a Whitney curator, and one she first visited regularly as a high school student. Seeing the space anew reminded her of her biggest responsibility: planning for new construction at the Studio Museum.

Thelma Golden and Kerry James Marshall
Thelma Golden and Kerry James Marshall
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The area of the Breuer building that brought on "the deepest feeling of nostalgia" was the stairwells she spent so many days going up and down. Other guests seemed to agree: J. Tomilson Hill schmoozed on a landing for a long while.

Climbing
Climbing
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The Met’s events can be quite formal: tuxedos and a sit-down dinner prevail at the acquisitions fund benefit, for example. Here, things were more relaxed. There was even wine jello for dessert, though it was given a very fancy name: marsala gelee, the top layer on bite-sized almond tortes that were passed around with small linen napkins.

Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn
Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The clearest sign of how the evening had gone was Sheena Wagstaff’s expression as guests made their goodbyes. Wagstaff, the chairman of the Met’s department of modern and contemporary art, oversees the programming at the Met Breuer, which opens to the public on March 18.

Sheena Wagstaff
Sheena Wagstaff
Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
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