BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“Black tie optional, knock yourself out” bids the invitation topped with contemporary masterpieces on a popping green background. The Art Institute’s Masterpiece 2019 artful team of Andrea and Jim Gordon, Stephanie and John Harris, and Nancy and Scott Santi have taken a costume gala begun in 1952, which invited guests to “come as your favorite masterpiece,” and given the theme a bold new twist that is sure to delight guests May 4 at the Art Institute.
We asked Stephanie to share the evening’s plans: “Masterpiece 2019 will be a contemporary celebration of the entirety of the endeavors of the Art Institute of Chicago. This year we are aiming to highlight the Art Institute’s move to become a more interactive museum with a contemporary focus on live arts. This gala is designed to be more experiential, and the aim is to have people leave thinking they have seen or experienced something they never had before.”
She continued, “From the invitation to the dinner, you will see a combination of the old and the new. I think you will find a fresh approach to using the extremely contemporary to help highlight the older, more familiar images we have all grown to love.”
Masterpiece 2019 follows on the excitement of February’s Midwinter Fest through the galleries when indie groups performed for the museum’s collaboration with the music platform Pitchfork to bring in the community for a music and art experience. Crafting the gala experience delights the co-chairs.
Nancy Santi agreed to share just a few surprises, including giant Pez containers filled with hors d’oeuvres:
“The evening will be elegant but edgy, glamorous yet full of pizzazz! From the moment guests enter, they will be surrounded by surprising elements, such as vibrant, colorful art in action—that’s all we can say! Innovative delights will be spread throughout the evening: appetizers being served on candelabras and trifles being served out of those large Pez dispensers! The decor will immerse our guests in a reflection and a color they probably haven’t seen at any other event. And music? Who doesn’t love The Temptations!
“Los Angeles has the Oscars. New York has the Met Gala. Chicago has the Masterpiece Gala. My co-chairs and I all felt the responsibility and honor of bringing this gala to the upmost level that our world class Art Institute of Chicago deserves. So many people of Chicago love the Art Institute. We get tremendous support from the staff of the museum, which allows us to plan the gala. And because this is art, we can be extraordinarily creative and hope our guests will as well. They can come “classic glamour,” or as we say on the invitation, ‘black tie optional, knock yourself out!’ ”
Eve Jeffers, the Art Institute’s senior vice president for external affairs, congratulates the gala co-chairs on their work: “They have captured in their planning the creative and vibrant nature of this place as well as our interactive nature. I am sworn to secrecy about many of the details, but it will feature a heightened presence of art and artists in our event spaces and clearly will be an experiential event for our friends, donors, and leaders.”
Eve said the event caps a year of Art Institute celebrations: “In December we celebrated the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Michigan Avenue building, and Masterpiece 2019 occurs on the tenth anniversary of our Modern Wing. These moments are deep in the roots of Chicago. We are an encyclopedic museum with a collection that spans 5000 years of creativity. Through our summer block party, which we repeat this year, our Midwinter Fest, and other interactive opportunities in Griffin Court and the newly installed African wing, we are bringing in all ages to the Art Institute. We are thrilled to have almost 100,000 family members.”
Several of the gala’s co-chairs practically grew up at the Art Institute, where their parents were deeply involved. Daughter of Jamee and Marshall Field, Stephanie Field Harris definitely had favorite masterpieces: “I remember two things very vividly from my trips to the Art Institute as a child. I got lost in my imagination in the Thorne Rooms only to be brought back to reality walking past a work by Joan Miró. Miró brought the age-old question what is art? to the forefront of my mind. To be completely honest, it made me think that the creation of great art didn’t look so terribly hard and perhaps I should become an artist.”
Stephanie added: “This is the second year where the AIC has brought back a party from the past with an iconic sense of fun. Is there something special about being part of this? There is always something special about being involved in an activity at the Art Institute. The Art Institute has forever been a pillar of our city, something all Chicagoans can take pride in. The highlight of Masterpiece 2019 to date has been working with my exceptional co-chairs. Their dedication to the institution highlights the philanthropic mindset that exists in Chicago and makes it the incredibly unique city that it is.”
“The staff at the Art Institute makes this job seamless and the supporters of the Art Institute make it impossible to fail. If we can leave knowing we hit our financial goals and that guests walked away not only having enjoyed the evening but take with them a new experience, then we have succeeded. I believe the only way to truly judge a fundraiser is to see how many people look to support and attend the one that follows yours. Only then will you know if you left them thrilled and ready to support again,” says Stephanie.
Nancy summed it up, saying, “We would love our guests to come away with the idea that art is a constant thread throughout all humanity, all times, and every culture. The Art Institute of Chicago’s encyclopedic collection showcases the beauty and human ideas expressed in art representing all times and covers much of the globe. Masterpiece 2019 is celebrating this, from street artists to our iconic masterpieces. We are so very enriched to have this treasure in our city!”
Members of the Host Committee include Neil Bluhm, Shawn Donnelley and Christopher Kelly, Jay Franke and David Herro, Andrea and Jim Gordon, Karen Gray-Krehbiel and John Krehbiel, Kenneth Griffin, Caryn and King Harris, Stephanie and John Harris, Sylvia and Jay Krehbiel, Liz and Eric Lekofsky, Diane and Robert Levy, Ann and Samuel Mencoff, Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel, Alexandra and John Nichols, Anne and Chris Reyes, Betsy and Andy Rosenfield, Cari and Michael Sacks, Nancy and Scott Santi, Brenda Shapiro, Cate and Rick Waddell, and Helen and Sam Zell.
For more information about events and programming at the Art Institute, visit artic.edu.