The New Swans of New York
Five social powerhouses lend their charm, and muscle, to the Art and Artists Gala for the Met Collection.
Next Tuesday, December 5th, 500 of the great and the good will descend on the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to pay homage to creating exquisite art. Formerly known as the Acquisitions Gala, the 2023 event will be the first under a new banner, the Art and Artists Gala for The Met Collection. Artists, benefactors, actors, models, tycoons, and jet-setters will gather at the Tiffany and Co.-sponsored event to ogle the Van Wyck decor, and each other.
The Acquisitions Ball has been a stalwart on the social circuit for the past 25 years, but the caliber of last year’s attendees signaled the event has entered a new phase. Why had this party suddenly become the white-hot center of New York Society? Several reasons perhaps, but one above all: the persuasive superpowers of the gala’s five co-chairs.
Dr. Samantha Boardman, Amy Griffin, Dasha Zhukova Niarchos, Gina Peterson, and Ann G. Tenebaum have an army of friends, networks and acquaintances. It’s a cross-section of the meritocracy and the American aristocracy, everyone from model Karlie Kloss (and her husband, Josh Kushner), Patriots owner Robert Kraft, actress Uma Thurman, and artist Rashid Johnson. Last year, the party raised a cool $4 million and doubtless they’ll sail past that benchmark again. These ladies are the new Swans of New York.
The “Swans” was a term invented by Truman Capote to describe a group of women who were celebrated internationally for their beauty, prowess at entertaining, and ability to captivate an outsize amount of media attention—among them Babe Paley, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Slim Keith. Less discussed but even more critical was their ability to raise money for the institutions they patronized. Capote dubbed them swans because, he said, they radiated calm perfection on the surface while paddling furiously underneath.
(He may have also been alluding to the fact that if you betrayed them, they could break your arm, just like a swan can—as they broke his, when he released his society tell-all Answered Prayers and was banished from their society. The feud is the subject of upcoming film Capote vs. the Swans, slated to be released in 2024, starring Naomi Watts, Chloë Sevigny, Demi Moore, Diane Lane, and Calista Flockhart.)
Boardman, Griffin, Tenebaum, Peterson and Zhukova Niarchos combine all the same attributes of the OG swans, with additional extensive career accomplishments. Boardman is the Harvard educated psychiatrist who runs a highly popular platform called Positive Prescription. Griffin worked in sports marketing for Sports Illustrated and as an Olympic manager before becoming a venture capitalist who founded her own firm, G9 Ventures. Tenebaum is an art powerhouse who sat on the board of the Dia Art Foundation from 1994 to 2006 and currently sits on the Public Design Commission as the Met representative. Peterson is President of The Peterson Family Foundation and Trustee of SFMOMA. Zhukova Niarchos is the founder of Garage Museum of Contemporary Art and Garage magazine. Together they represent the Venn diagram where the world of medicine, finance and the arts meet.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art obviously has another party people recognize—the Met Gala which benefits the Costume Institute. While Anna Wintour’s event is an unqualified success story that should be taught in business school as a case study in effective fundraising, its price tag of $50,000 per seat puts it out of the reach of many. And the party is aimed at a different crowd and for a different purpose. The Art and Artists price tag of $5,000 is not exactly money found between the sofa cushions, but in social-benefit circles, it is well within the norm.
And New York needs a dose of bejeweled, heady glamor. The last four years have not been particularly kind to the Big Apple—from the ravages of covid to the loss of more than 500,000 people (and their tax band), to the racial unrest and general anxiety of the political landscape.
But as 2023 draws to a close, this fresh and fun party in this hallowed institution with these glamorous leaders represents a turning point. Yes, the era of the late Swans is over, along with corsets, stockings that itch, and finger bowls. Good riddance to some of it. But there is still a deeply held desire for people of means to come together for their community, have a rollicking good time, and support the cultural institutions they love.
The Swans are gone. Long live the Swans.
Hero photo, from left: Gina Peterson, Ann Tenenbaum, Amy Griffin, Samantha Boardman, Dasha Zhukova Niarchos; Joe Schildhorn/BFA.com