Fashion photographer Steven Klein opened up his Bridgehampton estate on Saturday evening to host the summer benefit for the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (Acria), which funds HIV and AIDS-related research, treatment, and education. Sponsored by Calvin Klein Collection and Vanity Fair, the benefit attracted Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, Francisco Costa, Italo Zucchelli, Rachel Zoe, Daphne Guinness, Lauren Santo Domingo, Euan Rellie and Lucy Sykes Rellie, Nacho Figueras, Olivia Chantecaille, Stefano Tonchi, Jane Holzer, and Royal Pains cast members Mark Feuerstein, Jill Flint, Paulo Costanzo and Reshma Shetty, among others. Cityfile correspondent Douglas Marshall took a few mintues to chat with famed artist—and longtime Acria supporter—Ross Bleckner about art, life, and Dash Snow.
At left: Bleckner with Francisco Costa, creative director of Calvin Klein Collection.
Q: Sarah Jessica Parker was here tonight and it made me think of the first episode of Sex and the City when Kim Cattrall made a reference to a Ross Bleckner painting. Did that mention end up benefiting you?
A: It did actually. It's one of those things that keeps giving. People who don't know me—younger people, especially—that has become their point of reference if they hadn't heard about me previously. And I find it amusing and great. You could have all the art shows and be displayed in all the museums in the world, but when you tell somebody in their 20s, "Look at the first episode of Sex and the City," that really registers.
Q: Care to share any thoughts about Dash Snow's untimely death?
A: What other thoughts can you have besides how sad and tragic it all is? There are so many levels to it. From an artist's point of view, you kind of sometimes think to yourself, maybe it's better to die when you have so much potential. It's almost like a part of me feels like—and this is a terrible thing to say—that it's almost a relief because you don't have to be at the top of your game for 40 more years. You'll always be remembered for the potential that people believed you might have had. And there's something very beautiful about that.
The tragic part, of course, is that he'll never get to see that. The mythology of being an artist who takes drugs and fucks up your life is totally demystified. There's nothing good about it. It's all so tragic.
Q: How would you define an icon in the art world?
A: An iconic artist is one of two things. Somebody who does something really important that suddenty changes people's way of thinking about art. Or a real icon who just shows up and does their art and makes it great for 50 years straight. Like Jasper Johns. He started out doing great work and kept it up thanks to talent, intellect, and rigor.
Q: Let's talk about your involvement in Acria. You've been a big supporter for a long time. What is it about this organization that's so special?
A: I was president of the board for about a decade and I'm on the board now. What I love about Acria, first of all, is that they were there. They were there at the critical moments in the '80s and '90s, took on a serious health problem that affected millions of people, and they did really important work. That's the first thing I appreciate. They were at the forefront, at the cutting edge of investigating and educating people about AIDS and HIV. I also love how they did it in a democratic and expansive way. They took a subject that is essentially scientific and tragic and somehow made it accessible. They brought in a community of people and gave them a way to reach out and to be helpful.