New Media Installations Put High-Tech Spin on Whitney Museum Gala

By Jim Shi November 2, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

Photo: Alice & Chris for BizBash

After creating a 200-foot-long meadow of plants that adorned an entire wall last year, event design firm Van Wyck & Van Wyck looked to create a less elaborate decor scheme for the Whitney Museum of American Art's 2010 fall gala, held October 26. Thus, the black-tie affair for 500 guests got a crisp, all-white aesthetic, which complemented a new media installation from artist C.E.B. Reas, and digital artwork commissioned by chief sponsor AOL.

“New media is so 21st century and so forward-thinking, and I naively thought that if we used a lot of projections, we wouldn't have to use too many flowers,” said the museum's director of special events, Gina Rogak. “This is our first time working with AOL, which was interested in partnering with other creative partners—us happening to be a bona fide cultural institution.” Akris and Saks Fifth Avenue also lent their support.

“We're in a gallery space, and just because guests are having dinner here doesn't mean we can't remind them of where they are,” said Bronson van Wyck, who, with his company's senior producer Lauren Koppel, worked closely with Rogak on the undertaking. “The idea was to encourage and instigate a more meaningful relationship with the people here and the institution.”

Following a cocktail hour in the lower level's Robert J. Hurst Family Gallery—the same space that later played host to the after-party—guests such as Chuck Close, Tom Sachs, Jeff Koons, Tony Bennett, Anne Bass, and Claire Danes sat for a three-course meal on the museum's third-floor galleries. A Charles Burchfield exhibit had just closed, which freed up the space for the three-day setup. In this austere gallery space, the production team projected C.E.B. Reas's video content onto 16 custom matted screens hung from the ceiling, and van Wyck employed chandeliers and a series of mirrors to add light and color.

After a meal from Creative Edge Parties of roasted tomato tartare, braised short ribs, and New York strip steak, John Legend gave a surprise performance from a baby grand piano, which stood in front of a triangle-patterned backdrop that van Wyck used to match the venue's geometric shapes.

At the jam-packed after-party, which saw an additional 600 guests, AOL commissioned Daniel Hirschmann to install his interactive digital painting project as a way to further engage attendees. Contrasted with the decor of the upstairs dinner, the lower-level soiree was much more graphic, furnished with mirrored bars, individual seating vignettes, and tall palm trees. DJ Questlove of the Roots entertained the crowd well into the evening, which raised $2.65 million for the Whitney.

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