Artist Reinvents Brooklyn Museum Gala With Melting Cheese Sculptures, Self-Serve Carving Stations

By Michael O'Connell April 26, 2010, 5:20 PM EDT

Mario Batali carving roast rabbits

Photo: Alison Whittington for BizBash

Brooklyn Museum's Brooklyn Ball
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There's nothing wrong with table service and tuxedos, but everyone tires of the conventional gala meal once in a while—even the Brooklyn Museum. That's why it turned to food artist Jennifer Rubell for the annual Brooklyn Ball on Thursday, when the museum shunned tradition in favor of an interactive, communal meal that allowed each of the 600 guests to dig in, literally.

Produced by Brooklyn Museum events manager Kelly Shea and artist Zach Rockhill, the playful fete revolved around the work of Jennifer Rubell, a food artist whose unconventional presentation of meals for organizations like Performa has given her increasing notoriety in the arts community.

“I really wanted to create an environment where people were forced to participate and engage with what was in front of them,” Rubell said. “The gala is one of the few occasions when people are allowed to eat and drink inside the museum. So it really came from the idea of the art institution and these loopholes inside [it] in which you can enter and have a more interactive experience.”

In her one-night-only exhibition called “Icons,” Rubell payed homage to artists such as Vito Acconci, Marcel Duchamp, and Jackson Pollock. Eight “drinking paintings,” blank canvases with spigots, poured cocktails and wine. Models of Rubell's head, cast in fontina cheese, hung from the ceiling, while blow dryers slowly melted them over a bed of crackers.

The self-serve dinner was in the museum's Beaux Arts Court, at nine plywood constructions topped with raw greens, nine-foot-long flats of focaccia, and whole roast turkeys and rabbits. Everyone was charged with creating their own plate by grabbing, tearing, and carving the courses. Co-chair Mario Batali helped out by donning one of many butcher coats to plate rabbit for early eaters, but others, including Diane von Furstenberg, had to fend for themselves, many wielding professional cutlery for the first time.

Guests eventually wandered back down to the lobby to solve the mystery of the 20-foot-tall piñata of Andy Warhol's head, first encountered upon their arrival. Hosts had teased at a mystery dessert inside the head, but since the piñata was assembled and put on display more than a week earlier, guests spent the evening speculating about what sort of confection would keep so long.

A few whacks from the baseball bat—including one particularly eager swing from Batali—cracked Andy like a giant Easter egg, spilling out hundreds of Hostess cupcakes, Twinkies, Sno Balls, and Ho Hos for snacking during the carnival-themed after-party.

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