The last time that screenwriter/director Wes Anderson was in the Houston Country Club ballroom, it was for his St. John's senior prom back in 1987. Thursday night, the Hollywood A-lister was in the ballroom to present actress Tilda Swinton with the Rothko Chapel Visionary Award.
Only the second Rothko Chapel fundraiser in its nearly half-century history, this was a night of elegance and eloquence, a memorable salute to the legacy of Rothko Chapel founders Dominique and John de Menil and to artist Mark Rothko.
The evening marked the 50th anniversary of the de Menils'commission of the chapel. And it marked an interesting changing of the guard.
The evening marked the 50th anniversary of the de Menils' commission of the chapel. And it marked an interesting changing of the guard with Rothko's son, Christopher Rothko, poised to take the reins as board chair. He told the gathering that his father was inspired by the task, his goal "was creating something where he could really touch the human spirit on a grand scale and this was really important to him." Rothko called the chapel "a gift to humanity" for which the de Menils should be applauded.
With Swinton's BFF Lynn Wyatt chairing the black-tie dinner, the turnout was a glamorous as Dominique de Menil was understated. Chanel purchased one of the primo tables with the trés glamorous Lady Amanda Harlech, muse to Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano, as principal guest. She was smashing in a tulle and feathered couture gown by Lagerfeld. "Kristen Stewart wore it to the Met Gala," she noted. (For the record, Harlech wore it better).
The In Crowd
As Rothko Chapel Cultural Ambassador, La Wyatt was responsible for the impressive gathering of celebrities and art world patrons. VIPs schmoozing with the stars in the private cocktail reception were Rothko supporters and cultural leaders, among them Barbara and Gerald Hines, who have recently returned to Houston, having retired from their homes in London and France. An accomplished artist, she is preparing for a major exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Biblical Art while he is looking forward to the continuing development of his company's 5 million square foot, mixed-use project in Milan, Italy.
Those with coveted access to the private conclave included Contemporary Arts Museum director Bill Arning, art visionary Suzanne Deal Booth of Austin, Museum of Fine Arts Houston curator Alison de Lima Greene, Ballroom Marfa co-founder Fairfax Dorn, Frances "Sissy" Farenthold, Lora Clemmons, Dina Alsowayel and Tony Chase, Sara Dodd and Gregory Fourticq.
The New York contingent joining the Swinton tribute included Susan de Menil (wife of Francois de Menil), writer and Swinton consultant Jerry Stafford, British fashion photographer Tim Walker and president of People for the American Way and native Houstonian Michael Keegan. Welcoming them all was Rothko Chapel executive director Emilee Whitehurst.
A toast to Tilda
Anderson and Swinton most recently worked together on his gloriously quirky film The Grand Budapest Hotel. When an image of Swinton in her role as Madame D flashed on the ballroom screens, one couldn't help but notice a painted, if inadvertant, resemblance to Dominique de Menil. As for his next project, Anderson demurred, telling CultureMap, "I always have a notebook with me. I keep trying to put things down that will lead to a project."
"She's one of the very few other people in the world who really ought to be given their own church," Anderson quipped. "Swintonia is my suggestion."
Addressing the black-tie gathering, Anderson noted, "I always felt that Rothko cast a spell, as the Menils obviously knew. There are all kinds of reasons why it makes very good sense to me that Tilda should receive this particular honor. But I think the best one is simply the spell she casts herself.
"She's one of the very few other people in the world who really ought to be given their own church," he quipped. "Swintonia is my suggestion . . . Tilda would communicate a powerful and inspiring lightness."
The Oscar winner began her remarks on the profound impact of film and art on her life by saying, "Houston has felt like a heart's home ever since I first came here four years ago. I have such friends here — the eternally glorious Lynn Wyatt, whom feels like a sister; the divine Michael Zilka; my dear old pal William Middleton, who was the first person that told me about Houston."
A wowza party crowd
The sophisticated gathering included outgoing Rothko board chair Gayle DeGeurin, Steve Wyatt (recently returned to Houston from Washington D.C.), art patrons Leslie and Brad Bucher, Michael Skelly and Anne Whitlock, Melanie Gray and Mark Wawro, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, Katherine and Mark Yzaguirre, Ann and Mathew Wolf, Hiram Butler, Franci Crane, Jay Jones and Terry Wayne Jones, Sissy Kempner and Molly and Ford Hubbard III.
James Glassman was in the mix and chatted with Anderson about that senior prom back in '87. Although Glassman was a junior at St. John's at the time, he did attend the party. Those familiar with Anderson's work will recall that his Rushmore was filmed at the chichi private school on River Oaks Boulevard and Westheimer.
And after the serious dinner portion of the evening, the party broke into a lively club scene with music and hand-rolled cigars, those consumed on the outdoor patio, of course. Even a few of the ladies lit up.