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Arts / Museums

Most Unique Museum Fundraiser Ever Puts Paper in the Spotlight

This $405,000 Menil Night Exceeds All Expectations With Surprises Galore

BY // 04.04.19

There was neither rock nor scissors in the evening, but instead a grand evocation of the medium of paper. So Studio Menil Presents Paper Ball unfolded.

The venue — The Menil Collection’s Richmond Hall — was previously the province of an annual early-spring, gents-only party. In keeping with the times, Men of Menil has been retired, and in its place a new fundraising benefit has been crafted, one more in keeping with today.

Cue Paper Ball.

Four winsome chair couples joined Menil director Rebecca Rabinow in leading the evening that was marked with surreal surprises, especially unexpected, inventive twists of paper in the manner of dress.

Think elegant, witty, and understated — oh so Menil — rather than baroque or costumey.

Chair octet Stephanie and Ernie Cockrell, Caroline and Jeremy Finkelstein, Blakely and Trey Griggs, and Bridget and Patrick Wade reigned.

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The four chair couples: Jeremy & Caroline Finkelstein, Blakely & Trey Griggs, Stephanie & Ernie Cockrell, Bridget & Patrick Wade at Studio Menil’s Paper Ball (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)
The four chair pairs: Jeremy & Caroline Finkelstein, Blakely & Trey Griggs, Stephanie & Ernie Cockrell, Bridget & Patrick Wade at Studio Menil’s Paper Ball (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton

The connected couples enjoined 250 guests to step up, open pocketbooks and wallets to acquire tickets or purchase tables (prices ranged from $1,250 per individual ticket, to tables soaring to $25,000), as well as to step into the spirit of a night that alluded to the museum’s new masterpiece of a building.

That would be the Menil Drawing Institute, which unveiled last November and continues to garner international and national accolades.

This was also a rare occasion in that Richmond Hall was for one-night only devoid of its signature artwork; the vibrantly hued Dan Flavin light installation was dismantled to make room for papery enchantment.

Read PaperCity‘s exclusive story about the making of Paper Ball, and see pics of Richmond Hall with its Flavin lights, here.

Paper Ruled the Night

For the occasion, party designer and florist to the art set, Rebekah Johnson of Bergner & Johnson had been called in.

Johnson shared with PaperCity, via email, details of her design process, which began with a green note the moment the guests entered Richmond Hall.

A bower of dogwood trees in bloom (sourced from a small-town Texas grower), set a mode of natural reverie, one that was carried forth in the table decor and place settings.

And so Paper Ball unfolded … (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)
And so Paper Ball unfolded … (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)

Johnson said, “Once I knew paper was the inspiration, I knew trees had to also be a part of it, since that is where some paper begins.”

The party designer continued, “I had the idea that the tables would be tree trunks topped with glass and paper vases filled with papyrus. We also brought in dogwood to the centerpieces just to add beauty. I found the handmade paper vases from a tiny company in Haiti. I really loved the way the vases mimicked sculptures at the Menil.”

Another stunning detail was the ceiling treatment. Bergner & Johnson suspended an artful array of handmade sheets of paper to forge an intimate setting out of the one-time grocery store. Johnson said, “The chairs and the Menil wanted to focus on handmade papers … The more interesting dark-colored ones came from a paper maker in England.”

The mise en scène at Studio Menil’s Paper Ball (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)
The mise en scène before guests’ arrival at Studio Menil’s Paper Ball (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)

Chair Bridget Wade, via email, told PaperCity she was wowed by the resulting interiors of Richmond Hall:

“The decor made the Flavin building transform from vast, vibrant color into a soft-textured, cocoon-like atmosphere … [It was] a celebration of paper and its ability to open the creative.”

Beguiling Details

Another unique touch was the gala program, devised in a subtle nod to the possibilities of the night’s medium; printed and bound by EarthColor, Houston, it employed five different textured paper stocks, and was bound by white staples. So very Menil in the finely considered particulars.

Cocktails segued into pre-dinner remarks with Rabinow praising the chairs, and those gathered there for their support of the museum.

Kudos to City Kitchen, for their avant-garde interpretation of the menu for this seated dinner, especially in the entree course: red snapper en papilotte, the flavorful fish delicately wrapped in a white paper bag.

Dessert bon bons (bittersweet chocolate tarts) were followed by a celebratory explosion of confetti tubes, which coaxed the crowd upon the dance floor.

Danny Ray and the Acoustic Production generated excitement, turning the art space into a contemporary concert venue that could rival White Oak Music Hall.

See scenes from Paper Ball’s dance floor here.

Best Dressed… in Paper

The decision to make this night cocktail, not black-tie, sparked creativity.

Wade revealed the designer the four chair ladies enlisted for their ensembles: “As for our paper couture, Maryam Torabi of Ultra Design was our creator. Her ideas and inspiration were right on. Maryam created looks that captured the essence and worked the magic of paper into every detail.”

Board member Marcy Taub Wessel got in the spirit of the theme by tapping well-known Texas creative Selven O’Keef Jarmon — an artist as well as fashion designer whose beaded wall will soon rise upon the side of the Art League Houston building.

Wessel’s hand-pleated cocktail frock was exquisite and understated, recalling odes to ancient Greece, palm fronds, and Asian fans.

Clever details were indeed the order of this entire night.

Among the standout looks (gents went all out as did the ladies): Ceron in white pants, imprinted with newspaper headlines, a vintage menswear classic from a John Galliano for Christian Dior collection; architect Shafik Rifaat’s paper tie formed from The New York Times culinary section; the Moody Center’s Alison Weaver, a bloom in a chic white paper blossom headpiece; always decked-out Duyen Nguyen in a runway-ready blouse designed and crafted from Tyvek by husband, Marc Nguyen: and in from Dallas and Manhattan, Chris Byrne of the Elaine de Kooning House Residency, sporting a sparkly paper-flower  boutonniere, covered in glitter, a custom design by Debra Linse.

Alison Weaver at Studio Menil’s Paper Ball (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)
Alison Weaver at Studio Menil’s Paper Ball (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)

Also on the scene: museum board chair Janet Hobby and husband Paul Hobby, and board president Doug Lawing and Guy Hagstette; Menil trustee Caroline Huber, in from California (husband Walter Hopps was the museum’s founding director, while she co-directed DiverseWorks back in the day); in from Austin, Rice University Turrell skyspace patroness Suzanne Deal Booth (also a Menil trustee) with music-man beau LeMel Humes; Franci Neely; de Menil descendant and museum trustee, Anne Schlumberger; Mary Hale Lovett McLean;  Sanford Dow with gallerist Barbara Davis; and gallerist Hiram Butler and husband, antiquarian Andrew Spindler.

More great art people: Leigh Smith (husband Reggie was in London) with Houston Arts Alliance CEO John Abodeely; Chinhui and Eddie Allen (in a celebratory gesture, he dispensing foreign paper currency); Tatiana and Craig Massey; Orange Show founder Marilyn Oshman (a Menil trustee); BeDesign’s Adrián Dueñas and Marcelo SaenzFrancine and Westy Ballard; Beverly and John Berry; Elizabeth and Barry Young; Cindy and Larry Burns; Jereann Chaney who chairs the CAMH board;  Melissa and Michael Mithoff; artist Allan Rodewald with designer Crystal Tennant; and Marc Melcher quipping his paper accessory was the greenbacks in his wallet.

The Bottom Line: Edged in Green Ink 

As chair Stephanie Cockrell told PaperCity: “This group knows how to have a good time!”

And so Paper Ball unfolded … (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)
And so Paper Ball unfolded … (Photo by Jenny Antill Clifton)

The next day, guests continued to exclaim about the uniqueness of the party proceedings. Words like elegant and organic, high energy and unexpected all applied.

Fellow chair Caroline Finkelstein, who knows her way around the social and art circuit as an in-demand chair and host committee member, shared with PaperCity: “I can honestly say this was one of the most fun parties I have ever had the privilege of being involved with!”

The bottom line mirrored the energy of this auspicious art night, besting every single august benefit that was Men of Menil: more than $405,000 was raised.

The only question that lingered in the night air as the last guests departed — who will be next year’s chairs, and what theme can they devise that could possibly equal Paper Ball!

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