The Fine Art of Partying ; the Venice Biennale, Which Opens This Week, Promises Spectacular Visual Delights. Not in Painting or Sculpture, However, but the Events to Celebrate Them
Aidin, Words Rose, The Independent (London, England)
This week, the art crowd will be packing their bags for the Venice Biennale, the most important fixture in their calendar. But gallery owners, dealers, artists and their celebrity friends won't be tucking comfortable, museum-visiting flatties into their Vuitton graffiti bags - instead, they'll be packing their sharpest, smartest party outfits. Because the Biennale, opening this Wednesday, has turned entertaining the art pack into an art form.
Every country is represented by an artist, and each nation hosts receptions in its chosen artist's honour. The British Council's party in 1999 for the painter Gary Hume is the stuff of legend. Pulp's live music shook the walls of an 18th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal, while the Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota danced on the antique terrazzo floor alongside Jarvis Cocker, Tracey Emin, the dealer Jay Jopling and his artist wife, Sam Taylor-Wood.
Word is that the British Council won't be asked back to that particular palazzo, but no matter: outdoing the previous event's efforts means bigger, better and more original venues. The UK's artist this year is Mark Wallinger, whose exhibition is sponsored by the financial news service Bloomberg, a seasoned party organiser. Bloomberg will be hiring an entire uninhabited island, Lazzaretto Nuovo, for its festivities on Friday. Motor launches will transport 500 guests from the mainland to a carefully crafted rustic idyll: dining will be alfresco, music will be by members of Groove Armada and Portishead. That same night, Yves Saint Laurent's Tom Ford will be hosting an exclusive dinner for the American sculptor Richard Serra; earlier in the evening, the Anthony d'Offay Gallery will celebrate its Biennale artists by commandeering Cipriani's Harry's Dolci for a reception.
The Guggenheim will celebrate in Peggy Guggenheim's palazzo- turned-museum (previous guests include Elizabeth Taylor and Diana, Princess of Wales). The New York gallery-owner Larry Gagosian is hosting a rooftop dinner for the artist Cy Twombly. Sotheby's is hiring Palazzo Volpi on the Grand Canal for 400 guests. On Saturday, a ball in aid of Venetian heritage at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta will be attended by the party veteran Princess Michael of Kent. Such is the frenzy that the contemporary art magazine Frieze is offering a text-messaging service to allow those at the Biennale to keep pace with the party action.
Naturally, all this entertaining costs a vast amount, particularly in Italy's most expensive city, and some would say that in a field that depends largely on patronage, the money could be better spent. Yet as Charlotte Mullins, editor of Art Review, explains, these parties aren't just about keeping up with the Joneses. "In today's climate, flashy art parties are essential for whoever is hosting them to create an impact on the saturated art world," she says. "If you're a dealer, it takes time to create a buzz around your gallery and your artists, but private views, extravagant after- show parties and a little black book of celebrity friends ensure national coverage. And it works both ways: the launch of Tate Modern, for example, secured a raft of celebrities keen to be seen at such a high-brow event, from Jarvis Cocker and Kylie Minogue to Mick Jagger and Tony Blair."
When Prada sponsored a fundraiser for the Royal Academy's Apocalypse show last autumn the event was planned meticulously. The venue was designed by Madonna's friend David Collins, and Saffron Aldridge, the Ralph Lauren model, was brought in - along with her extensive contacts book - to help with organisation. "We often ask Saffron to help on projects," explains Gillian Mcvey, co-director of the public relations company Purple, which organised the event. "She's massively involved in securing high-profile guests."
The plan worked - celebrity attendance was impressive. Elton John toured the exhibition with Sam Taylor-Wood; Courtney Love draped herself over the bar; Miuccia Prada chatted to Jake and Dinos Chapman; Tim Jefferies hung out with shoe designer Patrick Cox. …