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For its 40th annual Party in the Garden on Tuesday night, the Museum of Modern Art brought in a lot of extra flora and an A-list lineup for more than 800 guests, who helped raise $2.5 million. The throngs who braved the nearly record-breaking temperatures and rain, and stayed late enough, received their reward with a DJ set by LCD Soundsystem and a rowdy performance by M.I.A.
The party may always take place in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, but this year’s outing made use of gardening in the decor. The dominant thread was grass, and its inspiration actually came from the artwork on the party’s initiation: Artist Ed Ruscha’s image of the word party mowed into a lawn prompted MoMA director of special programming and events Nicholas Apps to request that David Stark Design and Production re-create it near the party’s entrance. Photographers snapped guests like Claire Danes, Hugh Dancy, Diane Sawyer, and her husband, the night’s honoree, Mike Nichols, in front of the broad sod wall.
Guests sipped cocktails in the sweltering heat for almost an hour before the dinner began inside, and they weren’t even done with their meal when the second wave of attendees began to arrive at the museum’s north entrance for the after-party. Thousands of miniature desserts filled tables through the garden, but as soon as the dinner started to empty, and the outside neared capacity, the clouds opened up. The brief storm, while hardly ideal, didn’t dull the crowd. Ample tent coverage, the open bar, and loud music kept the guests in the party mood. Bodies pushed closer and closer to the stage as LCD Soundsystem’s DJ set came to a close and M.I.A. took the stage just after 11 p.m.
Party in the Garden previously boasted such big-name performers as Jay Z and John Legend, but this year the MoMA special events team decided to go in a younger direction. During their brainstorming, a junior staffer suggested M.I.A., the socially conscious artist who favors the dramatic sound of gunfire to conventional percussion, and the New York stop on her tour happened to coincide with the party.
M.I.A. bounced around barefoot on her florescent toenails while a slew of backup dancers and singers helped engage the crowd through the roaring 45-minute set. For the final number, a rendition of her hit “Paper Planes,” actor and hip-hop star Mos Def joined her onstage, treating everyone to a little air guitar. Once the performance ended, guests started to realize they had actually gotten wet during the storm, and the crowd quickly thinned out.