Prospect Heights

Brooklyn Artists Ball honors Museum Director Arnold Lehman and artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Takashi Murakami and Kiki Smith

April 17, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese and Benjamin Preston Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Brooklyn Museum’s fifth annual Artists Ball honored the museum’s director Arnold Lehman (right), along with artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Takashi Murakami and Kiki Smith. photos by Rob Abruzzese  See more photos at
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The Brooklyn Museum hosted the Brooklyn Artists Ball to honor its retiring director, Arnold Lehman, and three contemporary artists who had exhibitions during his tenure, at the fifth annual fundraiser gala Wednesday night.

The museum invited artists featured in years past for the event, including Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw, FAILE, Fernando Mastrangelo, OLEK, Duke Riley, Situ Studio, Swoon and Dustin Yellin, for its famous and lavish table installations.

Brooklyn’s arts patrons began filtering into the museum around 6:30 p.m. Naturally, artists’ outfits tended toward the flamboyant, while benefactor types generally favored traditional suits and dresses.

Amirah Kassem, owner and founder of Flour Shop bakery, arrived in a confectionary-themed ensemble, replete with candy accents, a large collar bow and an accessory lollipop. Greg Fletcher and Kehinde Wiley strolled down the red carpet in tandem, each sporting bright-colored suits — Fletcher’s a bright salmon hue and Wiley’s light blue and festooned with sea life imagery. Flush with inspiration from her recent travels in India, Olek wore a red sari and had henna designs inked on her hands and forearms.

The event’s organizers had set up a large four-sided bar in the middle of the room — within easy reach of all the art on display. They had also posted a number of tablets on stands, enabling people who were so inclined to bid on artwork.

Lehman, who had previously announced he was retiring in June, was among the honorees, and was presented with the Augustus Graham Medal. Three artists who have had major exhibitions at the museum during Lehman’s tenure — Kiki Smith, Takashi Murakami and Jean-Michel Basquiat — were also honored during the event, with the Asher B. Durand Award.

New York City’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, was on hand to present Lehman with his medal. 

“The Brooklyn Museum is now an institution for all of Brooklyn, from Carroll Gardens, Canarsie, Brooklyn Heights, Brownsville and beyond,” McCray said. “Your commitment to diversity, inclusion and community is why I’m so proud to call this my home museum. It says a lot about Arnold and his vision.”

Lehman presented the three artists with their awards. Lisane and Jeanine Basquiat accepted on behalf of their deceased brother, who became a junior museum member when he was just 7 years old, Lehman said.

“Jean-Michel’s meteoric rise to fame as an artist has become legendary both within the art world and in popular culture,” Lehman said. “We are proud to showcase his tremendous work here and to honor him this evening.”

He also had words of praise for Murakami and Smith, the other two artists honored at this year’s ball. 

“Takashi is also a genius in engineering spectacles in a way that suggest parallel realities,” he said. “Kiki Smith’s work continues to bravely and personally confront universal issues that acknowledge our vulnerabilities and our shared humanities.”

After a dinner that featured themed tables built by the gala’s featured artists — including one that looked not unlike a battleship from President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet — guests headed into the museum’s glass-walled Rubin Pavilion for a dance party. Music was curated by Fool’s Gold, with performances by Bosco, Leaf, Shash’u and Nick Catchdubs. Art installations by Flour Shop, Situ Studio, Robert Boy of Brooklyn Balloon Company and Pioneer Works lined the dance floor, and grinning servers circulated about the room with trays of vodka lemonade cocktails.

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