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If Art Basel Miami Beach is spring break for adults, then the Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation’s summer events are the grown-up version of a fun house.
Tomorrow, Sunday, Aug. 10, the arts foundation’s Watermill Center in Southampton, N.Y., hosts Explore Watermill Day, a free event from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. showcasing founder and artistic director Robert Wilson’s new Portraits Of Lady Gaga, high-definition video portraits of the recording artist influenced by master paintings at the Louvre. Sponsored by John Varvatos, the event includes free tours of the center as well as 27 other installations and performances around the property, some new works and some from the center’s recent July 26 annual gala fundraiser.
At that performance art extravaganza on July 26, Hollywood had some stiff competition in the fantasy department. “This is not only one of the most creative events in New York, but in the world,” said art collector and fashion designer Lisa Perry, as she made her way down a path snaking through sunset-bathed woods dotted with site-specific installations and performances.
The emphasis on art rather than on celebrities and society — though plenty of boldface names floated in the sea of nearly 1,400 guests — sets the gala apart, according to Lisa Anastos, chair of Watermill’s Contemporary Council. Two of the 27 site-specific works really resonated with viewers. London and Rotterdam-based Mette Sterre’s Hummelmania was comprised of four performers whose heads and faces were entirely enveloped in rubber bands like overgrown lion’s manes leading up to the finale in a full-body suit resembling The Wizard of Oz’s Cowardly Lion post-makeover. If not for Joelle Beli Titi’s mesmerizing voice, people would have stumbled into the deep hole from which the French soprano sang opera by Mozart and Verdi, and from which her flower and butterfly head piece slowly sprouted. The Lyonnaise was invited to perform The Survival: How to Penetrate the Darkness after auditioning for The Palace of Arabian Nights, a new opera from composer Phillip Glass and Wilson commissioned by the Paris Opera.
“By playing roots that are trying to reach the sky, I’m a metaphor for hope and life,” she said.
Stimulation came from all directions for an overwhelming experience. Whether to look at Jim Jarmusch wailing on a guitar as part of Music for Nikola Tesla in the rock-floored foyer that had women cursing their choice of heels, or the blonde donning a fascinator of two giant cherries a la Claes Oldenburg? How about Francesca Fini, a Roman who literally suffers for her art by receiving electric shock treatment while trying to apply makeup in a mirror attached to a tree? Look up — it’s a man rappelling down the side of the center amid a spray of silver tinsel.
Sarah Michelson, a performance artist who participated in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, was bowled over by her first time at the spectacle. “It’s the most concentrated version of people that you could ever imagine, and I don’t have my camera!” she said.
The benefit brought in a record $2.2 million for Watermill’s international summer arts program, as well as its year-round artist residency, education and free programs.
Major L.A.-based collector Eugenio Lopez summed up why he’s a fan of the center: “I support Bob [Wilson] because he’s there for young artists in the beginning of their careers when they’re struggling the most, especially performance artists who don’t get the same attention as other mediums.”
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