The Chashama Gala: A Sea of Suits and Scantily Clad Women

by Paddy Johnson and Matthew Leifheit on June 11, 2014 · 0 comments Events

A view of the chashama benefit

A view of the Chashama benefit party

In New York, renting a studio can be so expensive that many artists find it prohibitive to making art. That’s why it’s so important to have organizations like Chashama working on behalf of artists: they transform empty storefronts and office spaces into temporary exhibition and studio space for artists. In a city with booming real estate market and a 2.8 vacancy rate, this work is absolutely essential.

In short, I want to support them. I do not, however, want to support them at the expense of the respectful representation of women, art, and halfway intelligent discourse, all of which seemed to be thrown out the window at Monday night’s gala. A short trip through Anita’s Way, a long rectangular reception space near Times Square populated with a sea of suits, women in heels, and a few artists and administrators made that clear. Everyone looked great thanks to the onsite hair pieces by Delirious Hair Designs.

Living candles

Flambeaux’s “Living Candelabras”

Problems were everywhere. Let’s start with Flambeaux’s “Living Candelabras,” a performance made up of five women wearing very little, laid out on a bed and trapped under lit candles. It’s basically Annie Leibovitz meets club art. The women aren’t anything more than objects in this work, a point demonstrated by the artist himself, who extinguished the flame on candle resting on one woman’s breast by licking his fingers and pinching it out.

That didn’t go over very well with me, but at least these women had the good fortune of being covered. Another performance series featured a number of women dressed like Marie Antoinette walking around in corsets, underwear, and wigs, while another featured a quartet scantilyclothed dancers taking interpretive dance poses under veils of gauze. These interpretive dancers were described as an “art exhibition” that was performed in a glass box above the hall. They looked like half dressed store mannequins.

I’m hesitant to complain too much about the art—at fundraising events, art takes a backseat to creating the kind of social environment that brings out a wallet—but it doesn’t need to run quite so far in the opposite direction either. In a lot of ways, it simply reflected the flavor of the event, which often seemed a farcical capitulation to a cartoonish expression of market forces. Why else would the organization chose to start off their auction by having founder Anita Durst ring the stock market closing bell? Why else would they choose to honor Chicago Title Insurance Company? Patricia Lopinski, a V.P. of Sales and Marketing for that company, gave a short acceptance speech that lasted all of a minute; she glossed over the complexity of gentrification issues in New York with a short explanation that Chashama helps artists get inexpensive studios and artists bring in business to the neighborhoods.  “It’s a win win for everyone,” we were told.

Anita Durst

Three artists who were asked to talk about their work, along with Chashama founder Anita Durst, Honoree and Patricia Lopinski, and Benefit Co-Chairs Katie Fischer Cherry and Elizabeth Kurpis

Artists, though, know that’s not the full story. The view that they are the gateway to safer neighborhoods and higher rents has not historically helped them. Many are now barely able to make ends meet. Others are being forced out of the city entirely. I don’t expect an evening of celebration to get into some of the harsher realities we’re all facing, but the organization could at least create an event that better reflected its own goals. As it stood, I left feeling like the end-goal of Chashama’s board and benefit committee members was nothing more than increased gentrification.

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