24th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit
Last weekend, Robert Wilson welcomed over 1,200 guests to the 24th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit, raising funds for the institution’s year-round programming. The event brought the creative and philanthropic worlds together for a night of performances, installations; an auction; dinner and dancing. Aptly, this year’s edition had a strong political focus.
If art doesn’t acknowledge contemporary conditions than what is it good for? In a time of political, social and environmental crises, artists are poised to react. Through the use of clever metaphor, biting satire and bold statements, creatives can shape their own form of protest. Often, their results are revealed through cunning ambiguity, daring candour or the fusion of both.
Hosted last Saturday, the 24th Annual Watermill Center Benefit “Fly into the Sun” presented over 20 works – curated by Noah Khoshbin and Ivan Cheng – in tribute to Lou Reed’s life and work. With suggestions of political response, viscerally provocative dance and music performances; installations and video pieces hinted at themes like race, gender, sexuality, consumption, animalism, and language.
Founder and artistic director Robert Wilson revealed the event’s somewhat political tinge when stating: “We built a wall before Donald Trump.” Following the result of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election last November, The seminal theatre and opera director-cum-visual artist sent out an email expressing alarm and concern; conveying his worry of possible catastrophe but also the potential for resistance and action.
Wilson was referring to one of the event’s main pieces: a monumental 27-metre-high installation by Jenny Holzer bearing the message “She Outwits Him / She Outlives Him.” On the opposite side of this ‘wall’ – in what resembled an urban alleyway – young artists Jokubas Nosovas, Nikitas Broukakis and Sam Koshbin mounted Too M@ch Talk. The interactive ‘graffiti’ installation complimented Holzer’s resolute declaration, as it quickly filled up with explicit personal and political statements.
Entering the Watermill Center (featured in TLmag 23) guests – dressed according to a “Dark Shiny Matter” prompt – were greeted by Jared Madere’s Melbaumme, Zoey Carves The River, Every Rose composition. As night fell, the colourful collage of imagery, light, string, and ribbon illuminated the centre’s ‘enchanted forest.’ Placed along a stepped terrace that leads up into a central ‘Knee’ building, Miles Greenberg choreographed Hands: Giving and Taking Way. A nude female and male performer each laid on their own translucent film platform; elevated just above guests walking up towards the main event tents. Pushing into the flexible surfaces, their bodies were distorted in uncanny abstraction. Within the Knee building, Somos Monstros (Raúl de Nieves and Erik Zajaceskowski) performed in the bell of a small island my cult god test my life for much better than it is tested on you. Dressed in highly-ornate jester-like costumes, the performers interacted with passersby as they traversed a floor covered in large stones.
Within the centre’s expansive pebble terrace, A row of nine gabled huts – adjacent to the ‘graffiti wall’ – featured works by only female artists. Time-suspended performances by Deborah Emmanuel, Barbara Tran, and Xu Zhen – titled Hush, Homo Schizophyllum and In Just the Blink of an Eye respectively – interspersed with video works: Block Party and Jazz Funeral by VVHY, The Third Degree by Damir Očko, Tierra by Regina José Galindo.
Leading into the back woods area, Kat Gilmore’s Beat performance comprised of three female performers stomping and punching the resonant metal podiums they stood on. Beards was a dance piece by a group of artists including Marianna Kavallieratos and Laurent Le Gall with male performers in women’s clothing and vice versa. While two dancers played off of each other, the rest formed into collective Wilson-esque formations. Deep Time Rewilding by Rachel Frank featured six performers holding detached animal heads on sticks. Perhaps addressing environmental or animal rights issues, the performance was intensified by animal sounds echoing through the woodland brush. Further down the timbered path, Nile Harris’ A Monkey on his Back asked visitors to question “How big their Bananas were.” A ‘scientist’-like performer tested bananas sourced for a large pile, trapping a second performer against a tree. Marking the weight of each specimen on a chalk board, the performed engaged in an almost sensual degustation.
Nearby, Miles Greenberg staged Chandelier (Hunting Lodge), featuring a centauroid-like figure strung up with tree-anchored chains. Complete with hoofs and extended claws, the performer swung back and forth, up and down, as guests attempted to pass through. Stephen Shanabrook’s Beaten to a Pulp on a Bed of Moss was an active tableau in which cotton candy was fanned into the direction of a seated actor, ultimately covering his upper body and head. Last but not least was Vesna Maćković’s performance Salute. Inhabiting a vast concrete-clad room, without a ceiling, the artist took on the role of ailing coal-miner. Sitting at a table or chipping away at the concrete with a hammer, Maćković’s movements were amplified by an eerie recording of her own cough. In its perfectly succinct yet moving chemistry, the event, as a collective artistic statement, straddled a fine line between ethereal beauty and gut-wrenching reality. Evocative works juxtaposed the carefully manicured grounds – an enclosed haven set amidst the hustle and bustle of Summer in the Hamptons.
Guests were also treated to a silent and live auction mounted by Artsy and presented by Simon de Pury. The selection included works by TLmag 27-featured Lindsey Adelman; Carlos Bunga, Saint Clair Cemin, Candida Hofer, Joseph Kosuth, Annie Leibovitz, Hani Rashid, James Rosenquist, Paul Thek, Rosemarie Trockel, Carrie Mae Weems, Robert Wilson himself and TLmag 27 guest editor Christian Wassmann. The event honoured Isabelle Huppert and Laurie Anderson, who paid an homage to her late partner Lou Reed with a reprised performance. The Wildebeests was originally staged by both musicians at the 5th Annual Watermill Center Summer Benefit in 1997. Guests then danced on a floor painted by Dana Davenport, to a DJ set by style icon Flat White; otherwise, known as Virgil Abloh.
The benefit raised funds to support a rich programme of artist residencies and education initiatives, held through out the year. Presented by Van Cleef & Arpel, with additional support from Karma Automotive, Tequila Don Julio and Illycaffé, this edition brought in over 2 million dollars. Many of the works will be re-staged during the annual Discover Watermill Day, held on 13 August.
39 Watermill Center Towd Rd.
Watermill, New York, USA