“This is S.I. Newhouse’s personal secretary, I would like to invite you and your wife to a party to celebrate the construction of his new apartment.”
I almost hung up the phone. S.I. Newhouse, owner of Conde Nast (publisher of Vogue, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair magazines) calling me with an invitation? But there was something in the woman’s voice, which made me think this wasn’t a joke. She went on to explain.
“The party is to celebrate the architect’s wedding and honor his design of the apartment. I believe your wife is a friend of his wife.”
I vaguely remembered something about this guy doing work for the Newhouses. His wife was an illustrator who did freelance work for Newsday, a local newspaper in Long Island where my wife Rita, was an art director. How could I say no. It’s not every day billionaires invite me to their apartments.
His home was a floor-through on 1st Avenue very close to the UN. Clutching our invitation, security ushered us up to his floor where we were compelled to remove our shoes and put on some very ugly, cheap looking Chinese sandals. This pissed off my wife because she was very nicely put together that evening and changing her footwear did not improve her look. Shoes off, we shuffled into this large room, a symphony in beige. The carpet and the walls were fawn and the sofas were taupe. Phalanxes of waiters were circulating dispensing tiny morsels, which vaguely looked like food. The wine, although copious, was white. (Mustn’t stain that carpet). The room had many windows and the view of the UN and Brooklyn beyond it across the east river was magnificent.
More of an art gallery than a reception area, the walls were hung with art works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh; there was a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti. But in the pride of place, centered on its own pedestal, was a stainless steel rabbit. A larger than life-sized shiny balloon, it looked like it belonged in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. I was not impressed.
S.I. eased himself through the crowd saying hello and nodding a lot. I did try to converse with him but he seemed to be shy and looked as if he would rather be somewhere else. Not so Victoria, his wife, who was holding court with her curator. She was very much the interesting hostess. From her we learned that they had recently sold off most of their collection of abstract expressionist art and replaced it with a selection of Pop and other modern pieces. She seemed particularly proud of the rabbit and waxed eloquent about its lines and beauty.
At one point, the staff started fluffing up the scatter cushions, which we all took as a signal to leave. Shoes retrieved, we took the elevator down from the rarefied world of billionaires to the squalor of normal life.
As of the time of writing, Christie's had just sold the rabbit by Jeff Koons at auction for 91 million dollars. I guess Macy's couldn’t afford it.