Wish You Were Here

Geoffrey Bradfield reports on mogul manoeuvres


 Spring also means the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, founded in a brilliant move by Robert De Niro to bolster the city after September 11th.  

This year, in our great city of firsts, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Lincoln Center. When former fearless American visionaries like John D. Rockefeller and President Eisenhower spearheaded this monumental undertaking half a century ago, it was the first-ever, all-encompassing center for the performing arts, the like of which the world had never seen before.

“Art is the signature of civilizations,” the indomitable Beverly Sills proclaimed. This from a diva whose love of the Metropolitan Opera was so committed that she didn’t think twice when offering her domestic services preparing an Italian dinner for eight Met patrons. I was the successful bidder at just one such fundraising auction. “Bubbles,” as she was affectionately known, donned her checkered apron and turned my Fifth Avenue galley kitchen into an operatic proscenium for a few magical hours-pure heaven, and the pasta wasn’t bad, either.

Is it simply my advancing years, or are we indeed seeing a rejuvenating “changing of the guard” on our stages? As a frequent and indulged guest in the Baroness von Langendorff’s opera box, I am witness to this refreshing trend. Most recently at a performance of Don Giovanni, the cast mesmerized us as much by their voice as by their glowing youth. Befitting and just, considering the new $900 million facelift underway-billionaire David Koch and his wife Julia are amongst the great philanthropists of our day at the helm.

La Grenouille heralded in the spring with arbors of blossoms, the perfect setting for Madame Dewi Sukarno on a visit from Tokyo. The brimming fashionable crowd included Jane Wrightsman, Sid and Mercedes Bass (themselves mega patrons of what remains of the Met’s legendary “Diamond Horseshoe”) and jeweler Kenny Jay Lane, the “Caliph of Costume.” A few nights later, after an amazing performance by an ageless Charles Aznavour, I was invited for a late-night supper at Graydon Carter’s revamped watering hole, the Monkey Bar. Soaking up the scene were Barbara Walters, holding court with a brace of politicians, and Marty Richards in a richly upholstered booth of glamorous thespians. For those gourmands who are shrouded in black due to the demise of Balducci’s, be advised that there is still epicurean hope. In June, my favorite London restaurant Le Caprice opens its doors at the Pierre.

Although the current lackluster art market makes us look back longingly to the boom years, private sales have stepped to the fore. Vanquished are the new rich, leaving Christie’s and Sotheby’s to slug it out, adjusting their pricing in the wake of each other’s sales. Christie’s took this round, surprising many by fetching a total of $93.7 million-just under the high estimate (and well above the low) in its Contemporary Sale. Elsewhere in the market, blue chip Picassos and their ilk are still fetching hefty sums. One Bernard L. Madoff victim raised $14.6 million for Picasso’s Musketeer With a Pipe. (Hopefully, that should meet his rent for a few more months.) Julian Schnabel faired well, parting with his Picasso, Femme au Chapeau, to the tune of $7.7 million. This before flying off to Israel to film his new movie. I recently had the privilege of sitting for one of his famous plate portraits-quite the surreal experience. Where Sotheby’s failed temporarily in the art department, it scored a knockout with a record breaking $9.5 million sale of a 7.03-carat blue diamond, the highest price ever paid per carat for any gemstone. With my South African roots and friendship with the original Cullinan family, it was a personal delight seeing the flawless bauble had been extracted from the famous Cullinan mine, which is the source of the largest diamond (3,106 carats) ever found. The stone is now lodged in the coronation crown, orb, and scepter of Queen Elizabeth II.

There is nothing lackluster about the spring season of benefits and private parties, which continue at an unfailing pace. To be sure, one is confronted with shrunken floral centerpieces and open bars replaced by indifferent wines and water, but the show goes on and the turnouts are still impressive. Among the roster of invitations: Barbara de Portago’s elegant Versailles Foundation dinner for His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince George Frederick of Prussia had all the trappings of a feudal court; Judith Price’s high energy National Jewelry Institute dinner at the Forbes Mansion on Fifth Avenue; Muna Rihani, the glamorous wife of Qatari Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser, as hostess for the United Nations Women for Peace gala at the Metropolitan Club.

In the same Beaux-Arts venue a couple of evenings later, Ambassador John Loeb celebrated the publishing of his new book An American Experience. The west wall of the Great Marble Hall was dominated by am intricate family tree which included links to virtually every prominent Jewish family in America going back to 1740. More culturally current and fascinating was the inclusion of the Bronfman family’s newest addition, Ikhyd Edgar Arular Bronfman, daughter of Edgar Bronfman’s son Benjamin and Sri Lankan gangster rapper M.I.A., adding 21st-century diversity to this patrician ambassador’s gilded lineage.

Lest we think the titans of New York have deserted a city in crisis, the annual Robin Hood Foundation gala raised an astonishing $72 million for charities that nurture, heal, feed, and shelter our city. Billionaire George Soros upped the ante even further by making an additional $50 million matching challenge. Sherwood Forest has nothing on our modern day heroes.

“Art is central to our species and our society,” affirmed the Oscar-winner Robert Redford. And art in its many forms surrounds us. Spring also means the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, founded in a brilliant move by Robert De Niro to bolster the city after September 11th. This year’s spotlight was stolen by Sasha Grey, the 21-year-old actress with 150 adult films notched on her garter. Her serious film debut as the star of Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience needed no rehearsing, playing a high-price call girl. Though no full-blown sex scenes, the celluloid was not devoid of skin. We are Manhattan, after all. The London season beckons…Olympia and Grosvenor Shows and Ascot…more to follow…