Whitney Gala Conjures Infinity Theme With Mirrors, Lighting

For the Whitney's annual gala dinner, designer David Stark relied on mirrors, lighting, and a purple color palette to create the illusion of infinite space.

By Courtney Thompson October 21, 2008, 5:00 PM EDT

The purple-hued Whitney gala dinner

Photo: Keith Sirchio for BizBash

The Whitney Museum of American Art's Gala and Studio Party
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Benefit season is in full swing, and never was it more apparent than at the Whitney Museum of American Art last night. The highly styled masses descended upon the museum to attend the annual gala dinner (for the older folks with deep pockets) and studio party (for the younger set). Dubbed “Past, Present, and Future” and sponsored by Versace, the dinner once again occupied the museum's third-floor gallery, where David Stark deftly took over the decor reigns, staging an illusion-heavy scheme.

“We were really thinking about the Whitney’s past, present, and future and the idea that infinity is a conceptual way to tell the story of the Whitney and where it's going,” Stark said. “We were also inspired by the mirrored infinity boxes of Yayoi Kusama. So the dining room is meant to be almost as if you’re inside a Yayoi piece.”

To create that illusion, Stark lined the gallery walls with purple-hued mirrors, creating the vertigo-inducing effect of a never-ending room. With nary a flower in sight, the decor instead revolved around different mediums of light. (“We very specifically avoided flowers because it's not the right note for these times,” Stark said.) The tabletop centerpieces, for example, were glowing light boxes filled with slide sheets and colored gel squares that together resembled stained glass, while purple Edison bulbs hung from the ceiling.

The color palette revolved around shades of purple and red (think plum, eggplant, and oxblood), creating the “sexy, deep, and saturated” look that Stark desired. “The colors we’re working with are very hot in fashion, but they haven’t been a part of the party circuit yet,” Stark said. “We were all looking for a palette that felt different and individual.”

Stark and Whitney director of special events Gina Rogak worked with gala co-chairs Allison Kanders, Liz Swig, and Donatella Versace—the last of whom was largely responsible for reeling in A-listers like Patrick Dempsey, Mariah Carey, Nick Cannon, and Christina Ricci.

Downstairs, the studio party for an additional 500 guests kicked off at 9 p.m., an hour after the dinner. As in years past, it had a more raucous feel to it. Hundreds of younger society types lined the outside of the museum at 8:59, eager to get inside, pilfer the bar, and ogle the parade of fashions. DJ Cassidy knew his audience, playing everything from “Pour Some Sugar on Me” to “I Kissed a Girl,” but the highlight of the night came around 10:15 p.m., when a live simulcast of Sting's dinner performance was shown on flat-screen TVs throughout the gallery and tent. Although the $250 ticket price didn't get studio partygoers front-row access to the singer (that was reserved for the dinner's $7,500-a-plate guests), hearing him perform acoustic versions of “Fragile,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “Every Breath You Take” was certainly a perk.

Decor-wise, the party was reminiscent of the dinner, using varying elements of light: Lightbulb-shaped neons hung from the ceiling; the LED dance floor changed color every few minutes; and red uplighting washed the walls and staircase that led down to the space. Besides a smattering of velvet ottomans and highboys, the space was largely devoid of furniture, which ultimately created more space for dancing.

Once the dinner wrapped, many of the upstairs guests headed downstairs to dance and drink among the increasingly unruly studio crowd. Carey's husband, Nick Cannon, quickly hopped into the mirrored DJ booth (which allowed guests to watch themselves dancing), playing a medley of his wife's hits, while Dempsey stormed the dance floor and initiated a mosh pit when Nirvana came on. Not your typical society party, the evening wrapped up around 1 a.m.

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