Lisa Phillips arrived at the New Museum Spring Gala as a godhead in a Zoom box. The director had tested positive for COVID over the weekend and could not make it—thus, her colleagues stepped gracefully into big shoes. One of the evening’s honorees, collector Shelley Fox Aarons's, said as much in her acceptance speech when she noted that there wasn’t a job or task curator Isolde Brielmaier wasn’t up to.
Aarons walked off stage with her husband Phil proudly holding the award shaped after the familiar stacked dominos of the New Museum’s current silhouette. It was a relic walking as an entire ball room full of members and supporters chatted about the impending renovation that will literally double the downtown institution’s volumes.
The night was filled with collisions of newness and familiarity. After three years of virtual galas, all the customs—the tablescapes, BFA flashes, adorning outfits and dinner theater—felt alien again and maybe even welcome. The New Museum had renewed their vows to Cipriani and selected its newest spot at the South Street Seaport for the event. The night embraced a straightforwardness—speeches rolled out, dinner arrived, auction began, dessert descended—that felt affirmingly religious and wholesome. The hosts were gracious. The crowds were calm and glamorous and dotted with the New Museum staff: Salome Asega, Andrew An Westover, Maximilliano Gioni. Drinks were bottomless. Highlights from the night abound, from Shelley and Phil Aarons’s bejeweled outfits to actor Danny Glover’s heartwarming introduction of artist-honoree and friend John Akomfrah. In his remarks, Akomfrah said he wished the New Museum could’ve come to the gala. He looked at the audience and said with a smile: “This city has been incredibly generous to me.” I felt the same way on the smoking terrace.