Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wednesdays at Michael's by Diane Clehane

Lunch with British Parliament Artist in Residence Mary Branson

Mary Branson & Diane Clehane
Click images for full size view

Judging by the decibel level in the dining room at Michael’s today, the movers and shakers in the front room had plenty to talk about. We certainly did at my table. I was joined today by British artist Mary Branson thanks to British Heritage Travel’s CEO Jack Kliger and his wife, Amy Griggs Kliger, who thought I’d be interested in hearing about Mary’s groundbreaking work, New Dawn, a contemporary light sculpture and memorial of the women’s suffrage movement in Britain. The first contemporary artwork to become a permanent exhibit in the Houses of Parliament, New Dawn hangs above the passage used by suffragists as they fought for women's rights. As just about everyone who knows me knows, I’m an unabashed anglophile, so jumped at the chance to learn about this intriguing artist and her work.


Last night, Mary spoke at the Borough of Manhattan Community College downtown at an event sponsored by British Heritage Travel and BMCC Women’s Resource Center where she talked about the fascinating, untold stories of the suffragettes and suffragists (Yes, there’s a difference) who, one hundred years ago, fought and sacrificed so women in Britain and America could vote and how her discoveries about them informed New Dawn. (In case you didn’t know women got the right to vote in Britain in 1918. It happened two years later in the states.) Mary is headed back to England tomorrow after her visit to the states which also included lecture stops at the International Churchill Society in Washington, D.C. and the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. In October, she’ll be part of a private tour of Parliament for travelers on British Heritage Travel’s “Cross the Atlantic” cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2 when it docks in London.

New Dawn light installation

In preparation for our interview, I watched a video about New Dawn on Mary’s website (marybranson.com) and was struck by its quietly commanding beauty and even more impressed by the fascinating story behind the art. In March 2014, when Mary became Artist in Residence at the Houses of Parliament. Dr. Mari Takayanagi, a senior archivist at the Parliamentary Archives and co-creator and project manager of Vote 100, a celebration of 100 years of the Parliamentary vote for some women and all men in 2018, took her through the archives. Mary was astonished by what she discovered. “Everyone knows, or thinks they know, the story of the suffragettes. People know about Emmeline Pankhurst; that what the movie [2015’s Suffragette starring Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep] was about,” she told me. “I thought [the story of getting the vote] was all about the suffragettes, but there were loads of suffrage organizations. One of the biggest was the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. There were 10,000 suffragettes and 100,000 suffragists, but they never get talked about.”

The suffrage movement in Britain spans 52 years from 1866 until 1918. Mary learned that the suffragists, led by Millicent Fawcett beginning in 1866, believed in petitioning, lobbying and marching in contrast to the more militant methods of suffragettes. “I felt very much aligned to the suffragists. I don’t think I’d have been able to go get involved in a bloody protest,” she said. But both factions played a part in winning the vote. “It all kind of came together. You couldn’t have one without the other.”

When Mary was brought to the Act Room where every act of Parliament for the past 500 years is kept, the images of the scrolls “stayed with me” during her six months of research sparking the beginnings of the creation of New Dawn and ultimately becoming the heart and soul of its design. “I wanted to see who, in the records of the Sergeant at Arms [Parliament security], was protesting and where.” In digging into the archives, Mary was also surprised by her own reactions to her discoveries. “I thought I’d get excited about seeing the well-known names [on the lists] but what was most exciting was seeing how many ordinary women were protesting and getting arrested. I wanted to make an artwork that celebrated those women.”

And that she did. New Dawn is massive in scale to reflect the size of the suffrage campaign. The hand-blown circular glass scrolls that make up its dawning sun  reflect the many individuals who were involved in the movement and their ever-lasting contribution to modern democracy. The glass scrolls are mounted on a portcullis structure – the principal emblem of Parliament. Mary told me the colors of the lights represent the different suffrage organizations that all had their own signature colors used on banners and buttons during marches. “I didn’t know how big this was,” said Mary who told me there were 16,500 petitions filed with nearly 4 million signatures over the course of the movement. “I really needed to make a statement piece, not something that would be put in the corner somewhere.”

Mary said she was immediately drawn to historic Westminster Hall, the oldest part of Parliament and a large “overlooked” space above the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall. It was also, she learned, the site of numerous demonstrations where thousands of protesters came to Parliament to fight for women’s right to the vote. “I wanted to puncture the building with a strong female energy through light.” She was “surprised” and thrilled when her proposal to install New Dawn in the space was approved.

In June 2016 New Dawn was revealed 150 years to the day that the first mass petition calling for women’s votes in the House of Commons. Mary explained the installation’s 168 glass scrolls are backlit and linked to the tides of the Thames River which is programmed using specially developed software. “The intensity of the light ebbs and flows based on the tides,” she said. Mary was inspired by the imagery she found on historical posters from the period which often included renderings of a sunrise and drawings of tides and waves of water symbolically bringing change.” The result is a visually stunning and emotionally arresting work that literally puts viewers in the footsteps of the hundreds of thousands of women and men who fought for women’s right to the vote.

Mary told me when the lords of both houses approved her design, they joking requested that her installation be designed to “last 400 years” but Mary went beyond that working with a team of lighting designers, engineers and technology consultants (including her husband Mat Clark) to create a system where the art can remain the same but the technology can be removed and replaced with new innovations that are sure to come over the course of time. “The people who fought for this and were very brave to take [this issue] on, deserve to be remembered,” said Mary. Seeing New Dawn, you will never forget them.

I was so taken with Mary’s story about the creation of New Dawn, I barely had time to ask her how she came to work as an artist with light. I was surprised to learn she didn’t a full-time artist until she was in her thirties. After a decade working as a stewardess for British Airways, she went back to school and got her first class honors degree in Fine Art from the Surrey Institute in 2002 followed by an MA in Art and Space at Kingston University in 2004. “It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.”

When I told Mary the mission of the suffragists and suffragettes to fight for equal rights is not unlike that of women all over the world who touched off a seismic cultural movement with Women’s March in 2017, she concurred. “What really struck me is women one hundred years ago are very much the same as we are now days,” she said as we finished our coffee. As I stood at the corner of 55th and Fifth trying (in vain) to hail a cab in this afternoon’s monsoon, I felt hopeful thinking about how women, when we band together, can prevail. But I also remembered the words of poet George Santayana - - "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."



Seen & Heard Around the Room

Broadway benefactress Fran Weissler and Mickey Ateyeh on Table Two … Faye Wattleton on Three …GIII’s Morris Goldfarb on Four … New York Mets’ COO Jeff Wilpon on Five … Frank McCourt and Michael Eisner on Six … Long time no see! Bisila Bokoko on Eight.

And there’s more...

Producer Joan Gelman and Nancy Haberman on Table Eleven … Lisa Dallos with a squadron of suits on Twelve … Tom Rogers, who I met when he came over to heap praise on last week’s lunch date, Gretchen Carlson ( LINK TO COLUMN HERE), on Fourteen with Hank RatnerJim Casella on Fifteen and United Stations Radio’s Nick Verbitsky at his usual perch, Table Sixteen … Matt Rich on Twenty-One … Actress Leesa Rowland on Twenty-Six ... Stuart Synder on Eighty-One.

Finally, we just have to ask – Who was that elegant, silver-haired woman in the red suit and matching hat? On her way out the door, she smiled knowingly in our direction and we were dazzled. Evidently, it’s a big week for hats.

See you next week!



New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

New York City Mission Society Champions for Children Gala

The scene
All photos Laurel Marcus - click images for full size views

Spring gala season is upon us -- you can feel the electricity in the air.  NewYorkers just want to put on their festive dress and do the "Snoopy Happy Dance" to celebrate the end of the interminable winter.  Last night I attended the New York City Mission Society's Champions for Children Gala at the Mandarin Oriental where, despite the confluence of the TIME 100 Gala taking place simultaneously at Lincoln Center, was nonetheless sold out.

Cathy Hughes

For more than 200 years, the Mission Society has been instrumental in fighting the war on poverty with programs and services for underserved communities citing 10,394 people served with up to 91% of their Learning to Work program graduating high school compared to 41% citywide. Students from their GRIOT music program (100% if which can read and play an instrument) were in attendance, jamming away to summon attendees in to dinner.

Erin McCabe, William C. Thompson Jr. and Elsie McCabe Thompson

The gala celebrated the organization's president Elsie McCabe Thompson, paid tribute to  Director Emeritus/Actress Dina Merrill Hartley who died last year, and bestowed awards on LTC Francis W. Kairson, Jr. (Director Emeritus, who wore an impressive array of "chest candy"), Mannie Jackson (Philanthropist, businessman, author, documentary producer, former professional basketball play and former owner of the Harlem Globetrotters), and Cathy Hughes, Founder and Chairperson, Urban One, Inc. (the largest African-American owned and operated, broadcast company in the nation) who received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bill Ritter

The plan to launch the Minisink Charter School located in Central Harlem was announced as an exciting new chapter, one in which the organization hopes to "shape even grander outcomes for our children." As always Bill Ritter, Co-Anchor of WABC-TV served as M.C., this year expressing his concern that perhaps due to the upcoming tax cuts which will be felt in 2018, many in the audience would not have the ability to donate to this good cause. Everybody's got the right to their (political) opinion but I personally don't agree that the tax reorganization affects this level of philanthropy -- sorry Bill.

Jean Shafiroff, Randi Schatz, and Katrina Peebles

During the cocktail hour the philanthropic and the well heeled and equally well dressed took their turns in front of the Step and Repeat for their photo op before the somewhat thinned out media presence (at least from what I remember last year) -- again, maybe the TIME 100 had something to do with that. Gala Co-Chairs Jean Shafiroff (in a stunning B. Michael geometric Pop Art strapless floral gown) gave remarks at the dinner while Katrina Peebles looking very sleek in black and pink, introduced the award presentations. Everyone spoke of what an important function the Mission Society serves along with the importance of donations in order to "level the playing field" in a world of have and have-nots. Other honorees included BNY Mellon and IFF International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc.

Victor dE Souza, and Tanja Dreiding Wallace

Back to the fashion on display, I would crown Designer Victor dE Souza king for his amazing tiered, beaded and embroidered woodland inspired gown and brocade cape ensemble, worn beautifully by Tanja Dreiding Wallace who says she owns about 12 of Victor's amazing creations. He recently made the most incredible crystal embellished mask/headdress for the Save Venice gala last Friday night, which was also worn to perfection by Ms. Shafiroff. The extra tall plume at the top not only gave her stature but, according to the designer, special wire had to be sourced at the hardware store in order to lend support to the feather, reminding me of the "Unconventional Materials" challenges on Project Runway.

From left: Natalie Ross, Lucia Hwong Gordon and Susan Fales-Hill.

Unfortunately for those itching to get their boogie on, but fortunately for the Mission Society, an auction by Hugh Hildesley, Vice President of Sotheby's (which raised $55,000) along with a myriad of speeches by presenters and honorees severely cut into the entertainment portion of the evening. By the time Alex Donner & His Orchestra launched into Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" to lure partiers out to the dance floor, many of the crowd (including me) were well past their bedtime.

As I headed out into a steady drizzle, not a taxi in sight for what seemed like an eternity, I cursed the TIME 100 Gala for the unwelcome addition of rain on the soles of my previously unworn (and still un-danced in) shoes.





- Laurel Marcus

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

Publicolor's 2018 Stir, Splatter + Roll Gala

Honorees Philip Glass and Chris Ward
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Photo: Annie Watt

What could be better than a colorful event that combines fashion, art, and design, and is all for a good cause? On Monday evening Publicolor held its 22nd annual fundraising benefit, Stir, Splatter + Roll, arguably one of the most colorful, high spirited and unique events on the calendar. Honored for their longtime support of Publicolor and its programs were Chris Ward - AECOM VP and CEO, Metro New York, and former Executive Director of Port Authority - and boundary-breaking composer, Philip Glass, who received the Catalyst for Change Award.

Ruth Lande Shuman and Jeffrey Banks
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner 

The not-for-profit organization was founded in 1996 by the uber creative Ruth Lande Shuman and from the start, its mission has been to fight poverty by aggressively addressing the alarming dropout rate and low levels of educational attainment and youth employment in New York and to “engage students in their education, targeting the most undeserved communities and under performing schools with the most seriously disadvantaged middle and high school students in New York City”.

Publicolor students
Courtesy Publicolor

Using the power of color, collaboration and community the organization helps to engage at risk students in their education by teaching them painting and life skills. In fact, their motto is: “From Paint Can to College - Publicolor students don’t drop out”. Central to the mission is the beautification and revitalization of public and civic spaces and while the venue for this event had long been the Martin Luther King Jr. High School on Amsterdam Avenue between 65th and 66th Streets, which is a ‘publicolored’ school of course, for the past several years, the location has been the Metropolitan Pavilion on west 18th Street.

Color table settings
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

The loft like space with high ceilings was literally bathed in color down to the colorful cocktails, which guests, including artist Chuck Close, Knoll’s Liz Needle, Designer Gerard Yosca, Pratt’s Bruce Hanna, Interior Designer Vincente Wolf, Architect Robert Siegal (of Gwathmey Siegel), Publisher Jane Lahrs, Paul Binder (founder of Big Apple Circus), Joan Hornig, Paul Haigh, Takaaki Matsumoto, and former model Barbara Flood could enjoy while painting alongside some of the city’s leading artists architects, and fashion designers (Nicole Miller and Milly’s Michele Smith) in one of the approximately 20 painting stations set up (Tyvek jumpsuits were provided).

Painting station
Photo Marilyn Kirschner

Art was all around, and there was a live auction that included a Chuck Close portrait and a graphic painting by Michael Hambouz, the Brooklyn based multimedia artist. Over $200,000 was raised last night but the live auction ends on Wednesday morning so that number will obviously be higher.

Jeffrey Banks, a huge supporter of Publicolor and a past honoree (2013), reprieved his role as Master of Ceremonies for the festive gala dinner for the third time. One delightful treat was the live performance by Philip Glass.

Tziporah Salamon and Marilyn Kirschner

The dress code for the evening was “colorful festive attire” and there were a few women who obviously took this to heart. It was a perfect excuse for me to wear my vintage fuchsia satin Yves Saint Laurent trousers. Tziporah Salamon, known for her colorful eccentric dress, and a study in green, is another woman similarly inspired by a good theme.

Leckie Roberts
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner 

Leckie Roberts, a style influencer and blogger (www.westvillagewasp.com)  looked wonderful in a leggy three tiered orange dress which she told me was $76 and purchased on www.asos.com. As someone who loves a bargain, I delighted in hearing that. No you don’t need to spend a fortune to look fabulous.

Anna Handy
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

As for a bargain, nothing could beat Publicolor’s Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Anna Handy. Her paint splattered dress could not have been more perfect given the art themed evening. It reminded me of a group of paint splattered dresses on the Oscar de la Renta spring 2018 line but hers was a mere $17, scored on amazon.com (I am a believer that you can buy anything on Amazon!).

Katherine Subasic
Photo: Marilyn Kirschner

That being said, the coolest most inventive woman in the room was Katherine Subasic. She joked that the pants she was wearing were from Yeezy’s last collection but she actually took one of the Tyvek jumpsuits being given out last night for painting, put them on half way and tied them around her waist - so I guess you can say they are an original “Katherine Subasic for Publicolor” creation. In any case,  she wore it convincingly and it looked great with her slouchy plaid TOV Los Angeles blazer and her protective boot covers that looked straight off the recent runways. I was not surprised to hear that the recent law school graduate wants to work in the field of art law.




- Marilyn Kirschner