Club MoMA: Dance Party Sets Sights on Young Professionals

Club MoMA: Dance Party Sets Sights on Young Professionals
MoMA has done it: Everything is protected. There is no chance of the Green Fairy soiling the artworks of the major midtown museum, because, under cover of evening, MoMA is taking a break from its day job of being a modern art mecca. Tonight, it’s a classy kind of meat market, an upscale bar filled with attractive young professionals mingling and sipping on the free absinthe courtesy of Pernod.

This is the Museum of Modern Arts inaugural MoMA Mixx, a dance party held Sept. 26 with music chosen by an artist-DJ team and hosted by MoMA’s Junior Associates, twenty- and thirtysomethings who pay a $750-per-year fee and act as young patrons, donating to the museum and also participating in group events that most often entail visiting a New York artist’s studio. The artwork is being kept a safe distance away, and the Agnes Gund Garden Lobby is now an open bar.

Though the drinks aren’t actually free per se. MoMA Mixx is, after all, an upscale event: Tickets go for $75 each, or $200 for the three scheduled parties, the next happening in January and then April. While the 800 Junior Associates, or “J.A.’s” as they refer to themselves, might be the first to know about the Mixx parties, they are open to the drinking-age public.

Curiously, though, Cyrus, a thirtyish J.A. with a slight British accent, says he has no idea “why they’re saying this is hosted by the Junior Associates.” He goes on to explain that he doesn’t remember ever being notified about the planning or organizing of the event. “Maybe they’re using some of our funds?” he suggests.

Nevertheless, the party appealed to him, and to his recent-L.A.-transplant friend, Salar Saleh, 32. “The music they’re playing, the way they’re marketing this, makes it seem like they’re trying to attract a younger crowd. I came for the art, the music … sophisticated people, beautiful girls,” says Saleh.

He looks around the dimly lit museum, at the many black, cutting-edge cocktail dresses and skinny ties paired with thick-framed glasses. “And I think it’s working.”

Cyrus then launches into a story about the recent inner-workings of the J.A.’s, or, actually, the administration that oversees them. Recently, on an outing to Governors Island, just beyond Manhattan in the Hudson River, he and his friends noticed something lacking in the group: namely, a few of the guys they usually hang out with. They called a missing friend on his cell — did he miss the ferry? “They kicked me out,” the friend explained matter-of-factly. “I guess I’m too old.”

Turns out he is — at least according to new, more stringent rules regarding the age limit at MoMA’s young patrons group. At some point this August, the museum began enforcing the 21-to-40 age range — which it had been lenient about since the group’s founding in 1990 — probably in an attempt to nudge the more mature J.A.’s into the next patron group, membership for which costs twice as much.

“Museums are hurting globally,” Cyrus says, guessing at the reason for the recent crackdown, and maybe for the creation of MoMA Mixx as well. While the museum has been relatively layoff-free, its staff has experienced both pay freezes and hiring freezes. “UBS used to sponsor our parties, but they don’t anymore,” he continues. “You don’t have to be in the financial sector to know that it’s bad. MoMA needs funding.”

And Mixx might make it happen. While there are only a hundred or so people dancing, the party as a whole is packed with about a thousand bodies. Still, two pretty, blond J.A.’s chatting on the mezzanine overlooking the dance floor have noticed something conspicuously missing. “It’s definitely not a disappointment,” says one, who mentions that she’s 23, “but it would be awesome if art was a little more involved.”

She has a point. The art is essentially limited to video projections by fashion-video production firm FLY16x9, shown high above the Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium-turned-lounge. Those attendees who bought tickets at the door would never know that the opening DJs were actually artists Mickalene Thomas and Derrick Adams, or that their sets were followed by Hercules and Love Affair, the musical project of DJ Andy Butler. “Was there a featured musician earlier?” she asks a girl nearby.

She’s told no, but her enthusiasm for the event doesn’t fade. “I mean, it’s a party at MoMA. Really, no one’s gonna be ripping it up on the dance floor. But people will always come to this stuff; they love an opportunity to schmooze.”

It definitely seems as if MoMA Mixx is more about attendance and less about art. The hope, says Angela Goding, head of the Junior Associates and an organizer of the event, was to attract young professionals who wouldn’t necessarily visit the museum, nor sign up for its patrons group. “The impetus is to bring in new people that maybe wouldn’t come to the museum otherwise. It’s about them having a different kind of experience here — not a ‘white cube’ experience. It’s about changing up the museum, if you will.”

And it does indeed seem that the potential attendees are what’s drawing people in. Sam Murkofsky, 22, is not a J.A. but a scout looking for fashionable people for on-camera interviews to be featured on the style Web site “Generally, people that really think about their clothes like art,” he says by way of explaining the party’s appeal. “It’s definitely true that MoMA is trying to draw a younger, New York crowd.”

“I’m 36 and single in New York,” says another J.A. as he sips an absinthe sour by the bar. He works as an architect and joined the Junior Associates in 2008. “I’d like to meet someone who’s interested in the arts.”

Beyond his personal plans, he says, the benefits to the museum are clear. “The museum wants to get in with these people because they are the patrons of the future, the future business leaders of the world. Most people here are closer to 40 than 25.”

Goding also acknowledges the financial advantages to MoMA. “We’re charging a $75 ticket price, so yes, it’s a fundraiser for the museum. All the money raised goes back to supporting exhibitions at MoMA and P.S. 1. But it also includes an open bar, and it’s tax deductible.”

The Junior Associates did not pay to rent the party space, given their affiliation with the museum, and much of the liquor was donated by sponsors. All in all, Goding estimates, the event likely raised about $20,000 for MoMA.

And from the looks of the lines at MoMA’s makeshift bar, if the hope was to bring in a new, desirable crowd of young, urban professionals — well, as Saleh pointed out, it worked.