Volume 77, Number 27 - December 05 - 11, 2007
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Glamour and grit collide on Bowery at museum bash

By Melanie Schutt 

Paparazzi cameras flashed amid a sea of fur coats and Lincoln Town Cars on a block best known for its homeless shelter.

It was the Calvin Klein-sponsored First Look party at the New Museum of Contemporary Art on Nov. 28. Celebrities, donors and society insiders previewed the museum’s collection in advance of the public opening on Dec. 1.

The freshly constructed, geometric building at 235 Bowery towers over the street, wedged between Daroma Restaurant Equipment and the shuttered Sunshine Motel. The Bowery Mission homeless shelter resides on the other side of Daroma, at 227 Bowery.

Attendees arriving for the private function entered a heavily guarded but see-through media tent, walking red carpet-style past photographers and reporters.

“Put your hand on your hip please!” a cameraman shouted to one woman as she diligently posed, while her male companion was directed to wait on the side, out of the picture.

“Piper! Piper! Piper!” The photographers whipped into a frenzy as actress Piper Perabo slunk through the tent in a body-hugging gown. Lance Armstrong, Ashley Olsen, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore were also reported in attendance.

By day, the Bowery exudes urban, industrial grit. The area between Houston and Rivington Sts. is a mix of wholesale restaurant supply stores and old apartments. Delivery trucks clog the street.

At the First Look celebration, it was Mercedes Benzes and private drivers that instead swarmed the street, depositing visitors outside the museum’s gleaming facade. The words “Hell, Yes!” hung from the building’s exterior, a rainbow-colored and -shaped installation by artist Ugo Rondinone.

The guest list blended the upper crust with the ostentatious. A brunette debutante tottered across Bowery in 5-inch black patent heels, while a young male artiste strutted by in a long white feather coat. A bald gentleman emerged from the backseat of an S.U.V., sporting sparkly silver leather pants, a fistful of bulky silver rings and an ornament for his left ear — not an earring, but a molded silver prosthetic ear that fit snugly over his real one.

Usually, the same block is dotted with homeless individuals who stick close to the Bowery Mission. They congregate outside or camp in nearby doorways.

These sidewalk dichotomies are casting a spotlight on the divide between have and have-not.

“Look at me — I’m killing the earth — take my pic-chah!” a passerby muttered as she viewed the media activity inside the tent.

Even the museum’s intersection combines two opposites. The museum is erected across from the eastern terminus of Prince St., and is thus, while rooted on the Bowery, also a natural extension of the crosstown street. Prince St. — known for Soho’s famous art galleries as well as high-end shopping and Nolita’s fashion boutiques and cafes — now culminates at the New Museum. The museum itself is known for embracing underrepresented, original artists from around the world.

But the Bowery acts as a border between neighborhood personalities.

The building’s architects, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, have been quoted as saying they were “a bit shocked” when they first surveyed the new Bowery location, but they believe both the Bowery and the New Museum have a similar history of being “very accepting [and] open.”

The Bowery’s level of acceptance will be tested as its disparate neighbors spend their first few months in this new coexistence. At First Look, the Calvin Klein Collection logo was light-projected on the side of a building, hovering directly above the Bowery Mission’s roof.

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