Unzipped at Unframed! Acria's Art Event Is Unreasonably Fun

By Ted Kruckel April 30, 2010, 12:06 PM EDT

The Archeological Institute's servers in painted masks

Photo: Andre Maier

I’m at the age when I’m both proud of and horrified by how old I am. When I got the invitation to preview Acria’s “Unframed” event at the Manhattan Penthouse, I thought for a moment how I went to the first.

Then I remembered, “Oh geez, I went to the first one twenty years ago.”

But I mustered the courage and crow’s feet to check out Wednesday night's preview, and it is still a blazing effort. (The actual event was Thursday night.) Acria got hot thanks to stalwart supporters like Ross Bleckner, Bob Colacello, Carolina Herrera, and Diane von Furstenburg, who repeatedly lent their shiny names to what was then a grubby and unpopular effort. (Community Research Initiative on AIDS was the organization’s original name. A for America was added later when it became a big deal.) The first incarnation of this event was puny compared to what they put on now.

Here’s the idea: Big name artists donate (mostly) small and special sketches, prints, models, maquettes—all sorts of pieces that are slightly less “produced” than the pieces they are known for. Small-time collectors like me get a swipe at big time art ownership, with none of the pretense.

One year I got a Robert Mapplethorpe portrait. He’s naked in a tub. Another year I got one of those David Wojnarowicz prints of the buffaloes going over the cliff, and was hugely gratified when The New York Times put my newly framed picture on the front page of the Arts section. My friend Cathy bought a piece by Warhol-ite Ronnie Cutrone (ex-husband of reality TV harridan Kelly) and ended up becoming their neighbor. Long story.

The organization got bigger and more complex, so the auction has too. Now there are online versions and a silent top-bidder sale. At this year’s event it seemed like every room had different art with different rules.

Sponsored this year by Elle Decor (disclosure: I am a former employee, vendor, and contributor), this anniversary event was held in two adjoining for-sale penthouses in a gracious Upper East Side building, Manhattan House.

Realtors and anxious sellers often offer up posh digs like these to help goose buyer interest, so when you go to most of these designer showhouses, it often means the seller is “motivated.” I’m just assuming that’s the case here, though a small, intense-looking woman in the elevator confirmed my guess.

In this case, two gracious homes made for a slightly disconnected, though posh, event. Narrow, long hallways forced intimacy on comers and goers—some wanted, some less so.

I arrived from the Hamptons and was desperate for a restroom, and there were plenty. But just as I unzipped, another party guest wandered by the window over the commode. Oops, there’s a deck! I would have thought it worth zipping over to Bed, Bath & Beyoncé for a few $10 telescoping rods and some white cotton fabric. But then again, I’m old fashioned.

Back to the party. It’s swinging. Time Inc. editorial honchos (and longtime Acria supporters) Martha Nelson and Charla Lawhon are sizing up the goods. I caught Richard Lambertson of Tiffany & Company pricing a Donald Baechler print for $1,200 and asking if he could have the frame the work was shown in. (He couldn’t.) He was game and said he’d buy it anyway. Then my guest Susan Murphy started jonesing for the same print, so Acria’s helpful mouthpiece Scott Drevnig explained that there was a supply of the print in question at and that Acria now had a year-round art-selling function online.

Among the Ancients
On the same night as the Acria preview, the Archeological Institute had its second annual big-time gala, themed around Peru. (Last year was the Mayans.) The invitation headline demanded attendance: “The Archaeological Institute of America’s 2nd Annual Ancient Gala. Citizens of the World, Explorers & Historians Invited to Experience the Wonders of Peru and the Opportunity to Bid on Extraordinary Travel Adventures.” Phew!

Held at Guastavino’s, this event looked to make $1 million, and the crowd didn’t disappoint. The people-watching was fabulous. One woman had a giant sculpted gold necklace. Sensing me staring, she put her hand over it—so now I’m convinced it was worth mucho dinero. One guy had a printed velvet dinner jacket that matched the Peruvian masks worn by the staff.

Flowers of all different shapes and sizes were flown in that day from South America and kept in one of the event organizers’ hotel room. Ah, memories.

The live auction featured dozens of exotic trips: Petra in Jordan, climbs to Machu Picchu… oh nevermind, you get the idea. Reading each one made me feel more provincial by the minute. I overheard a guy say that one of the destinations used “340 million-year-old fossils as decor.”

But time is fleeting and I only stayed for a minute. Maybe I’ll be asked back…

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