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This year’s Watermill summer benefit was more like a divine comedic romp than the slog through hell’s seven levels implied by the event’s theme, which was “Inferno.” As waiters offered Champagne cocktails and trays of skewered shrimp and truffled grilled cheese, guests watched circus-like performers enact pieces by the center’s artists-in-residence, including a fire-eater courtesy of Todd Robbins; costumed children operating an aptly named giant “Spider Puppet” by Sophia Jones, and, just before dinner, showgirls and an aerial act from C. Ryder Cooley.


“Every year we try to do something different from the last,” explained the arts organization’s founder, Robert Wilson, as he greeted arrivals along with Isabella Rossellini. “Sometimes we think, ‘What should we not do?’ And then we do that.”


Hence, perhaps, the “flaming” dress code which got sartorial sparks flying with lots of red and orange frocks accessorized with devil horns, headdresses and, inexplicably, a lot of Ascot-style hats. There were also real flames, of course, in the form of festive tiki torches, which lined the path through the forest along which art installations were displayed.


“This is so ‘Survivor,’” joked Ruffian designer Brian Wolk—except on “Survivor,” girls don’t have staffers offering heel protectors to prevent the stilettos of their Louboutins from sinking into the grass.


Perhaps they should have handed out flameproof jackets too. “I hope it doesn’t eat my raffia,” fretted Jamee Gregory of her ornamented Lanvin T-shirt as she went to check out the fire-eater.


(The only sobering note: the grave that was being dug as part of one installation. “That’s a really tough piece,” commented P.S. 1 chief curator Klaus Biesenbach.)


A crowd that included Christophe de Menil, Amalia Dayan, Debbie Bancroft, actress Laura Harring and two of the New York “Real Housewives,” Countess Luann de Lesseps and Ramona Singer, toured the silent auction, while Calvin Klein could barely get four feet inside the tent, so beseiged was he by fans. After he finally had a chance to look at the offerings (including a piece by friend Ross Bleckner), Klein announced, “Every year, it keeps getting better and better and better.”


As the crowd headed down to dinner, the festive atmosphere continued—enough to coax $1.4 million for the center. In between courses, Simon de Pury led a live auction, including a piece by Terence Koh and a portrait of Ingrid Bergman that her daughter Rossellini helped hawk.  Afterwards, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Richard Meier and Nacho Figueras listened to Martha Wainwright perform before the DJs took over and dancing began.

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