Art Parties

Mickalene Thomas, George Condo, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jeff Koons, and More Brave Flash Floods to Attend the New Museum’s Annual Gala

Theaster Gates, Mickalene Thomas, and Tracee Ellis Ross at the New Museum gala. All photography by Yvonne Tnt/BFA and courtesy of the New Museum.

“It’s with Marilyn fucking Minter!” The shout from Mickelene Thomas could be heard throughout the ballroom at the New Museum’s annual gala and live auction as the artist tried to reinvigorate bidding on a custom portrait from Minter, the price of which was hovering around $100,000. (The artist ultimately sold not one, but two, portraits for $105,000.) Thomas could also be seen whispering in the ear of fellow honoree George Condo as he placed a $30,000 bid on her Dior Lady Art Bag. (It went to another lucky bidder for $35,000. So close, George!)

George Condo and Mickalene Thomas

The event, not slowed down in the least by the torrential rains sweeping New York, took place at Cipriani South Street along the East River as the museum itself closes for a year of construction, during which it will expand its footprint by 60,000 feet. As guests—including Jeff Koons, Rashid Johnson, Hannah Traore, JiaJia Fei, Tierra Whack, and Celeste O’Connor—ran inside, sopping umbrellas were quickly replaced with a bellini, and attendees were ushered upstairs to view the art on display. This included a mirror-paneled painting by Thomas, as well as a printed edition of Maurizio Cattelan’s famous Comedian work, this time with the silver duct tape swapped for a roll that read “New Museum, New Museum, New Museum.” 

Over dinner, guest host Tracee Ellis Ross took to the stage to usher in the evening's events, but not before offering a “tour” of her blue brushstroke-coated Marni dress. This entailed moving from one side of the stage to the next to offer a full-360 view. (The piece traveled from her Los Angeles home to New York in its own suitcase.) Honoree Mickalene Thomas then took to the stage to give an impassioned speech about leading with authenticity, ending with a line from writer Nikki Giovanni: “‘Once you know who you are you don’t have to worry about it anymore,’ and I know who I am.” 

The evening’s second honoree, George Condo, also took the opportunity to touch on the larger themes and concerns of his career, ignoring his prepared remarks in favor of lambasting work that interrogates the “nothingness of nothing.” He did, at one point, pull his printed speech out of his breast pocket to show the audience the pages he had stapled together. Staples, he posited, are an important part of the artistic process, as they are used to fasten canvas to its stretcher. “Staples are important,” explained Condo, “the speech wasn’t.” To a round of vigorous applause, he concluded, “Art is not disinformation, it is the truth.” 

The live auction that followed, in addition to the Thomas and Minter pieces, included a Nari Ward work that sold for just under its estimate of $200,000, and a six-night stay on Dakis Joannou’s yacht, which features a custom exterior by Koons. The trip, engineered for the bidder and eight of their closest friends, quickly reached six figures. 

Deon Jones

The night was topped off with a performance by artist Deon Jones, who made headlines in recent years for levying a landmark police brutality case against the city of Los Angeles. The suit alleged that a police officer had violated Jones’s civil rights after he was shot in the face with a rubber bullet during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. This, he explained, was his first time on stage since winning the suit last year and he treated the audience to a pair of rousing gospel-inspired songs that brought the room to their feet, as well as a cover of U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” 

As Jones exited stage left, guests began slipping toward the door. Spotted waiting in the 20-minute wrap-around coat check line: Thelma Golden (donning a Studio Museum baseball cap), Marilyn fucking Minter, Antwaun Sargent (signature hat on), Tyler Mitchell, and Kennedy Yanko. Art world stars, they’re just like us!