Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

How the High Line Got Art Instead of Money to Take Out the Trash

  • Donald Mullen honored for founding investment in park program
  • Maurizio Cattelan designs ‘High Since 1934’ scarf for guests

The pitch was something about supporting garbage removal on the High Line. Instead, Donald Mullen said he’d pay for art and a curator.

Seated for dinner

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

More than eight years and 220-plus artists’ projects later, the Friends of the High Line thanked him (again) in the chicest way possible: with a balmy September evening on the High Line, cleared out for guests to enjoy all to themselves.

Robert Soros at a gold table

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The occasion Thursday night was the fifth annual High Line Art Dinner, a benefit that honored Mullen alongside artist Carol Bove. One of her twisty sculptures was on view during cocktails, caught in pink light as the sun set over the Hudson. At dinner, gold cloth shimmered under plates of late summer tomatoes and grilled quail and lobster. The music was Depeche Mode and New Order.

The favors were quite something too: found on the backs of guests’ chairs were scarves designed by Maurizio Cattelan with the words "High Since 1934," the year the railroad tracks opened on an elevated structure that would, seven decades later, be transformed into one of the most popular places for a promenade.

Art has been part of the High Line since it first opened as a park in 2009, with the support of Mullen.

Donald and Amanda Mullen

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

On a brief break from mingling, High Line co-founder Robert Hammond recalled meeting Mullen after an introduction by David Heller. Both Mullen and Heller worked at Goldman Sachs at the time, and have since left; Mullen is now chief executive of Pretium Partners.

Hermine and David Heller

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

"I went into Don’s office at Goldman Sachs and I asked him to help pay to run the park," Hammond said on a break from mingling. Immediately, Mullen had other ideas.

"Don had this vision to be ambitious about art because the High Line runs through the gallery district, but it’s not really accessible to most people -- they don’t feel comfortable," Hammond said.

"It would have been a lost opportunity," said Mullen who, to date, has never expressed regret at not endowing trash removal.

Cecilia Alemani and Catie Marron

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Cecilia Alemani, the curator and director of High Line Art, said Hammond came up with the "High Since 1934" slogan. "I am not so sure what that says about the kind of plants we have been growing up here.”

Soon the High Line art program will evolve with the addition of the Plinth, a dedicated space for installations and events.

Astrid, Tom and Janine Hill

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

And while Mullen was its first champion, the program has earned others, such as Blackstone Group’s Tom Hill, whose art will be on display in a private museum near the High Line opening next year.

The dinner also gathered many people who work in the art world, including MoMA’s Ann Temkin, Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Queens Museum’s Laura Raicovich, and art dealers Paula Cooper and Angela Westwater. 

Catie Marron, the Friends of the High Line’s chair, said what makes the art on the High Line so special is getting to see it framed by nature and the city landscape. By dessert time, her husband, Don Marron, and Heller were modeling the Cattelan scarf in just that context.

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