The Spectacle of Charity: The Rhizome Gala at the New Museum

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British artist Ed Fornieles  first made his mark on the art world with a certain type of performative party: 2011’s Animal House , which added a highbrow bent to fraternity clichés. Tomorrow night, he’s staging a very different social gathering at the New Museum; one geared a bit more toward the 1% than the keg-standing masses. NY NY HP HP is both a faux-gala and a real fundraiser (for Rhizome’s 2013-14 programming season.) As with the typical black-tie charity event, there’s a fee structure that rewards generosity: $50 gets admission plus “a conversation with the artist,”; $500 nets three tickets plus “dedicated arm candy for the event, any gender,”; and a solid $5,000 contribution ensures the donor is the official honoree of the entire event. (You can buy your tickets here.) I asked Fornieles a bit more about this very, very, very V.I.P. occasion.

Galas in the art world tend to be a love/hate sort of thing for journalists like myself–we’re often invited, which is nice enough–free food! Free booze! –But then again, we’re there as third-class citizens, in the hopes that we’ll write about what a Fantastic Event it was. What has your own experience with galas been like, as an artist? And how did those experiences translate into NY NY HP HP?

I love the idea of the gala. It’s a spectacle mixed with a cause; it’s holding peoples hands, making them believe for a moment, and then asking for money. It’s a celebration with pizzazz and a beautiful sense of showmanship, born out of our current socio-economic system.

Your immersive party/performance is also based on certain pop cultural references, like Sex and the City. How much of New York’s nightlife and social culture would you say is actually derived secondhand, from fictional representations in film and television?

For me a gala is something that I’ve seen on TV and films. It’s more of an idea than a reality. I like the distance, it feels like being abroad, you begin to see the details the locals have forgotten about, everything becomes condensed.

$100 tickets get you access to NY NY HP HP‘s VIP area. What sort of decadent perks await the elite?

The VIP room allows the elite to be together. It also creates a sense of hierarchy as well, which I like – it gives the participants something to work towards. In addition to the VIP room, there’s also a performance in a limo outside.

The last gala I went to had David Byrne singing and awkwardly gyrating on stageOne before that featured a sort of performance-art boy band from Thailand – I’m still not sure what happened, but a lot of denim was involved, as well as some rapping, and e-cigarettes. The bar is pretty high for 21st century gala entertainment… do you have anything up your sleeve forNY NY HP HP?

I just do what other people do; I’m not interested in originality. The great thing about the gala is that there is a language: people know how to dress, behave and pose for the camera.  Every time you report on one of these things you’re compounding and slightly mutating the idea of the gala. At the moment this has become a very strong narrative, which is why I’ve chosen to use it.

Are rich people ruining the art world? Are they ruining the world in general?

I always think, “Wouldn’t it be great to be rich?”

Is NY NY HP HPsatire, celebration, or a bit of both?

I like mirrors, because you know mirrors are never passive. You get to see the spinach in between your teeth.


Get those pocketbooks out and snag your NY NY HP HP gala spot now, with profits going to Rhizome.