Lunch Meat, Nudity, and Anarchy: Rhizome’s Faux Gala

I’m still trying to figure out what the hell happened last night on the top floor of the New Museum, where Rhizome celebrated their annual gala in performative environment conjured by British artist Ed Fornieles, entitled NY NY HP HP. Feathers rained down from the ceiling, coating attendees in a downy fuzz; a girl in a white robe with a Friar Tuck haircut engaged in what appeared to be primal scream therapy with an older gentleman in a suit; two tall blondes engaged in what was either a poorly overacted rendition of a faux-lesbian lover’s spat, or an actual lesbian lover’s spat.

Did I mention that more people appeared to be visiting the bathrooms in pairs than you would expect at a traditional, stuffed-shirt gala? It was enough to give you hope that the art world’s bizarro, fucked-up spirit hasn’t been completely crushed by Volkswagen sponsorships and hedge-funded collectors. (You know it’s a slightly transgressive party when semi-nude models are carted out covered in lunch meat—a sort of meta-nod to a cheesy, over-the-top cliché, like much of the evening’s programming—and people actually ate the meat.)

Before the doors opened at 8 p.m., Fornieles called me to explain a bit of the concept. The gala would start off pretty normal, he said, before morphing into something a bit more anarchic; the code word I should keep in mind as a sort of personal roleplaying cue was “sociopath.” The night kicked off with a rousing speech that parodied the earnest conventions of typical gala’s: ‘thank-you-rich-folk-for-making-the-world-go-round’ rhetoric, accompanied by an equally tongue-in-cheek, slickly produced video for Rhizome that could easily have doubled as commercial for Cisco.


Then Rhizome director Heather Corcoran took the stage to deliver an actually earnest thank you speech, this juxtaposition setting the tone for NY NY HP HP in general: What was serious, and what was a joke? Who was an actor, and who was just weird, or drunk on the horrific, pre-packaged, single-serving white wine? After the speeches, four naked or mostly-naked girls got up on podiums and half-danced, partially covered in what appeared to be translucent packaging tape. A few suspiciously out of place dudes started congregating nearby, trying to muscle their way onto the podiums for a bit of unwelcome booty grinding. The mood in the room tensed, slightly—had the gala been infiltrated by well-heeled finance bros on the hunt for mythically freaky bohemians? All was clarified when the bros themselves took over the podiums, stripping down and proceeding to crotch-thrust to the beat (one of the four had perfected a particularly impressive headstand-in-his-underwear maneuver.)


As promised by Fornieles, NY NY HP HP did descend into something a bit more “anarchic.” Just before eleven most of the remaining crowd was writhing on the floor on top of each other, soundtracked by the kind of anthemic fist-pumpers you might hear in a SoulCycle class. Most of the wood and cotton structures built as a backdrop for the party were destroyed, toppled over on the floor, which was covered in the aforementioned feathers. (Where did  they come from?)

The unconventional structure of the night probably means that Rhizome raised a couple thousand bucks, rather than the untold bazillions that can be milked when you put a bunch of art-loving financial criminals in a room and feed them airplane food. But hey, I’d much rather leave a gala with feathers in my beard and a cheesy pop song in my heart.

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Images courtesy of: Jesse Untracht-Oakner

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