Cynthia Erivo Performs for Jemima Kirke, Hailey Baldwin, Andreea Diaconu and More at Whitney Gala

Whitney Gala 2018 Cynthia Erivo - Getty - H 2018
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Other guests included Sean Lennon, Warren Elgort, Bob Gersh, Blair Brown, Dev Hynes and top artists, collectors and curators.

The Whitney Museum of American Art hosted its annual Gala and Studio Party on Tuesday night, marking the third anniversary of the museum’s move from its longtime Madison Avenue location to its downtown home in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. The star-studded event raised $4.8 million for the institution.

By way of translation, if any is needed, the Whitney Gala is to the Met Gala what the Golden Globes are to the Oscars: more inclusive, more whimsical and more fun. Tony and Grammy winner Cynthia Erivo performed for guests, including Jemima Kirke, Hailey Baldwin, Andreea Diaconu, Sean Lennon, Warren Elgort, Bob Gersh, Blair Brown, Dev Hynes, and top artists, collectors and curators.

One of the evening’s honorees, artist Lorna Simpson, known for exploring racial and gender identity through film and photography, boogied the night away with the petite-and-always-chic Thelma Golden, the director and chief curator of New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem. (The dancing duo will reunite May 24 in L.A. at The Underground Museum for a free public conversation to celebrate the publication of the artist’s new monograph “Lorna Simpson Collages” (Chronicle Books).

Their tight dance-floor posse included Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney; Simpson’s daughter Zora Casebere (singled out by Vogue for her hairstyling Instagrams); and bicoastal (“Bushwick and L.A.”) artist Shinique Smith, whose solo show “Refuge” is on view at the California African American Museum in L.A.’s Exposition Park through Sept. 9.

The gala also honored Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo and Beth Rudin DeWoody, two longtime Whitney trustees that the museum’s chairman emeritus, Leonard Lauder, reportedly referred to as “the Bobbsey twins.” Weinberg drew laughs as he ribbed the collector and curator DeWoody.

“Beth is miss New York. She is Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She’s Lucille Ball as May. She is Liza Minnelli singing ‘New York, New York,’” he joked. “Is there anywhere she has not been? Any contemporary or historical site she has not visited? Anyone she has not met, any clothing designer she hasn’t worn or any musical she has not seen or not know by heart?”

The night’s big entertainment was a special performance by Erivo, who sang “Masterpiece” and “Natural Woman.” The Whitney was prescient in picking the performer; she is known for her Tony- and Grammy-winning performance as Celie in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple, but the film star in the making, repped by UTA and Authentic, has three thrillers opening in the next year: October's Bad Times at the El Royale, co-starring Chris Hemsworth and Jeff Bridges; Steve McQueen’s Widows, opening in November, with Viola Davis; and Chaos Walking in March, starring Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley and Mads Mikkelsen. 

Artist Rashid Johnson told THR he’d just completed principal photography for his directorial debut, a new feature adaptation of Richard Wright’s classic novel Native Son, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and to be distributed by A24 Films (Moonlight). Did he have any mentors — maybe another artist turned feature filmmaker like McQueen (12 Years a Slave)? Johnson shook his head no: “It was into the fire.”

Lennon and model Charlotte Kemp Muhl – his longtime romantic partner and bandmate — were seen posing with cooly blank expressions in front of one of several Instagram-friendly photo stations set up throughout the museum. Meanwhile, Elgort, the up-and-coming filmmaker and lookalike brother of actor Ansel, turned quite a few heads. Also coming out to support the Whitney: Brit musician and producer Hynes and Orange Is the New Black co-star Brown.

The Gersh Agency’s Gersh, who chairs the Whitney’s national committee of collectors around the nation from his hometown in L.A. and serves on the board of L.A.’s Hammer Museum, too, told THR his parents collected contemporary art, “minimalism, pop art and abstract expressionism mostly.”

“It was a great thing to grow up with,” he said, adding that their passion fueled his. He still has the first piece of art he ever bought when he started collecting in his 20s. “It’s a Hans Hoffman drawing in the stairway of my home in L.A.” Of his bicoastal art interests, he said: “I’m excited for the next show opening — it’s the artist Mary Corse and I’ve seen her work for 30 years because she is based in L.A.” That exhibition opens June 10.

Until then, artist Zoe Leonard, also in attendance, is enjoying a Whitney retrospective though June 10 that arrives in November at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA L.A. Other artists partying included: Nina Chanel Abney, Gregory Crewdson, E.V. Day, Michele Oka Doner, Glenn Ligon, Robert Longo, Julie Mehretu, Donald Moffett, Ken Okiishi, Juan Antonio Olivares, Laura Owens, Tom Sachs, Cindy Sherman, Mike Starn and Rob Wynne.