Fall Ball Sleepover 2014: 12 Hours with CreativeTime
By LYNN MALISZEWSKI, Nov. 2014
The Fall Ball Sleepover was the first segment of a two-day fundraiser held by CreativeTime. Opening at 8pm on Friday, November 21st, at Neuehouse and lasting until 8am the next day, the programming tested the endurance of guest and planner alike. The soiree trumped the usual gala banquet, possessing the energy and indiscriminate intimacy of a chance meeting with a puppy. The atmosphere catered to the sensualist seeking infectious conversation and stimulants. This 40th anniversary of CreativeTime encompassed the gusto of their ambitious mission but fell short on follow-through.
When I entered the beehive at 8:40pm, the airy first floor of Neuehouse felt like an ordinary networking event: calm music, a hushed timbre of conversation slowly building like the sweet smell of chocolate chip cookies baking, and a swarm of CreativeTime employees with badges hustling in final prep mode. A modest dance floor, sandwiched between a performance stage and six rows of bleacher seating, spanned the entire width of the storefront on 25th Street and melded with the Absolut Elyx bar opposite the entrance. Sasha Frere-Jones, music critic at The New Yorker, played auditory chaperone for the evening, manning the DJ booth with several playlists that fueled the dance floor upstairs and issued a relaxation requirement in the basement's sleeping zone. The evening started innocently enough with Frere-Jones spinning an indie-pop assortment and guests veggie-loading at the Surrealist Dinner Feast Buffet. Participating artist Raul de Nieves joked that the buffet was inescapable autumnal fare, as predictable as it was satisfying: roasted root vegetables, cured salmon and pickled radish, cranberry couscous, charcuterie and a generous cheese assortment.
The evening's entertainment began at 9:30pm, when ten activities to run on loop until nearly 2:30am were activated and several performances took place on the main stage. Hex Message, a five-piece instrumental band, was the first to perform. Their sonic daggers were hypnotic, a premonition of the focus yet vigorous activity to come. The front door flew open at an accelerated pace around 10pm; the crowd thickened. Frere-Jones' transition to trap music was swift, and necessarily raged on between performance sets until the early morning. Between 10pm and midnight, The Citizens Band graced the stage three times. The cabaret troupe's subversive political jabs and satire, accompanied by a violin, guitar, and snare drum, mocked the privileged audience in the bleachers, lounging on linen-wrapped pillows with cocktails in hand. The cynically charismatic host regularly beckoned viewers to "dry their nails on the bleachers" and support artists. In between sets, attendees received tarot divinations in the basement by Jen DeNike and Giorgio Zanardi, played "Guess the Artist" Pictionary with Sebastian Errazuriz on plush leather couches, had their nails done by Vanity Projects (with Will Cotton-inspired designs), or sang karaoke with Raul de Nieves.
By 11pm, the open bar had been ransacked. The stock of Crimson Vespers, one of the four signature cocktails, were depleted and Tom Sachs began to distribute food from his space vehicle (formerly an element of Space Program: Mars on display at the Park Avenue Armory in 2012). A generous helping of red beans, white rice, and avocado, with a slice of salami to garnish, was ferociously consumed by dancing fools and socialite alike, offering a brief moment of sobriety. CONFETTISYSTEM facilitated drunken crafting and accessorizing, providing tissue paper, cardboard, and metallic accents on a long table to produce their token triangles or diamonds in every shape and size.
Thematically, the sleepover provided inspired fashion liberties, from FKNLZ's six-person matching rainbow jumpsuits to Manish Vora's traditional drop seat onesie with Abominable Snowman slippers. Between 11:30pm and 2:30am, guests were popcorn kernels in a vat of hot air. One two separate occasions, performance artist/musician Alexandra Drewchin and Kelsey Hall, a member of the performance troupe FCKNLZ, both mentioned how overwhelmingly sociable and open the crowd was. Dustin Yellin strutted about with a tissue-paper diamond over his genitals, dually securing his shorts around his thighs and allowing his ass to flap in the breeze. The party stunt invigorated those that had arrived late and provided an excuse for full-moon selfies.
Salad for President's "Spin the Salad" kissing game and David Colman's "ZIP," an exercise in TSA-style body searches, were controversial yet communal. The dance floor rumbled during these peak hours beneath barely 50 pairs of feet, invigorated by vodka milkshakes, at it's most concentrated; the glass and supports of Neuehouse's exterior trembled. Alex Ott, a revered sorcerer of alcoholic beverages and master of a multi-sensory mixology station at the party, provided homeopathic uppers and downers for party-goers. He started off each cocktail session (every half hour) with two drops of dandelion extract—so powerful it clears bacteria from the esophagus and so concentrated it conducts an electrical charge. It summed up the thick of the party: an exotic rainforest of creatures from all walks of life, united by a shared enthusiasm for bizarre behavior.
Between 2:30 and 3am, the domino effect of departures began. Several posses converged at The Box or apartment after-parties. At about 3am, approximately 20 people remained, and the bar provided VitaCoco and VitaminWater to late-night revelers. Frere-Jones swapped his upstairs and downstairs playlists. This surreal transition from full to empty was sudden, transforming the first floor into an empty space station lit by red and blue light as the cleaning crew trickled in. The basement hosted ten guests on CreativeTime cots, serenaded to sleep by a live performance by Glasser at 2:30am. With nothing scheduled between 3 and 6am, the inspiration to inhabit the space was nonexistent. Those that did stay (mostly those that were obligated to: production crew, friends of said crew, CreativeTime staff, and this sole journalist) putzed around aimlessly or tested the limits of juvenile hijinks. A theater in the basement looped a video installation sequenced by Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe—hermetic entertainment for the wee morning hours. Segments by documentary filmmaker Julien Bryan were interspersed with more psychedelic black-and-white experiments on film by Hans Richter and Walter Ruttmann.
Robert Lazzarini's Porn Puzzle station was nearly untouched sans a full pomegranate disassembled in a pile of puzzle pieces. I found myself gaming between 5 and 6:30am with fellow night-owl Dominic Martinez. The music had stopped; Frere-Jones vacated the space around 5:30am and three games of Jenga were played amid the hum of vacuums. Shadowed by the cleaning crew, the sleepyheads were resurrected around 6:30am and converged for a morning meditation. Seven individuals participated (including myself), and by the time yoga finished up at 7am the mummies from the basement had disappeared. Less than ten survivors gathered around the Panatea Matcha bar at 7:15am, hoping the ancient Japanese energizer and hangover cure would be enough to last the subway ride home. We had made it out of the madhouse alive.
CreativeTime put themselves out on a limb for this one, hoping to weave their knowledge of public art and engagement into an idiosyncratic experience. The evening was explosive, like a four-year old's sugar rush that eventually crashes after a voracious binge. The party was surprisingly intimate, like a "friends and family" restaurant opening where no one pays and everyone imbibes. Donations in 2013 alone totaled at least $3 million according to CreativeTime's public annual report, and outreach definitely didn't feel like the priority with this fundraiser. Although it was pitched as an "immersive art experience," CreativeTime catered to a hectic party atmosphere rather than a balanced sensory experience, one that easily could have accounted for all events listed but been more conscious of the timeline and thus encouraging people to stay. This was an occasion to rattle minds at a slower pace, an extremely rare quality, but they dropped the ball on that one. Considering the roster of artists and vortex of activity, the passive role during the most fruitful hours is surprising. After the gluttonous party, reinvigorating the space as the sun rose could have been the authentic triumph of this experiment that made it worth trying again. WM