In past years, the Menil Collection's annual black-tie, men-only fundraiser has highlighted sumo wrestling, billiards and fencing as part of its fun-filled sports-themed evening. This go-around, some of the nation's best table tennis players provided the after-dinner entertainment with a smashing exhibition of the sport.
After a explanation of the finer points by U.S. National Table Tennis coach and trainer Scott Preiss, champion players Jim Butler, Mark Hazinski, David Zhuang and Eric Owens thrilled the crowd with a heated competition from a table set up in the middle of Richmond Hall, the Menil annex that houses Dan Flavin's fluorescent light installation.
Then they took on a a couple of good-natured volunteers in the tuxedoed crowd. James Stewart, the son of Menil trustee Bill Stewart, gamely competed against one of the champions, who provided him with a larger paddle at one point. Niraj Oak, chief technology officer at Linbeck, the construction company that built the new Bistro Menil, showed his prowess in a close game against Butler. Oak has represented the U.S. in the World Table Tennis Championships.
Before the competition, guests dined on a sumptuous dinner of tuna tartare, rack of spring lamb and chocolate mousse from Jackson and Company. Afterwards, they adjoured to an outdoor tent for cigars, brandy and whiskey.
Seen in the crowd were co-chairs Russell Hawkins, Ransom Lummis, Michael Mithoff and Shannon Sasser, Menil director Josef Helfenstein, Marshal Lightman, Paul Hobby, Paul Gilbane, Brad Bucher, Harry Pinson, Edward Griffin, Jack Moriniere, Mac Dunwoody, Bill Cannady, Andrew Echols, Mark Wawro, Tripp Carter, Craig Lidji and Rich Levy.
The evening raised more than $340,000.