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NEW YORK — “Art is the centerpiece of life.”

That observation came from Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, whose frame of reference was shaped by the turnout for the 15th annual American Art Award gala Tuesday night here, which drew major figures from the worlds of fashion, retail, real estate and Wall Street.

A crowd of 500 came to support the museum, celebrate its 75th anniversary, and to honor Terry Lundgren, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Federated Department Stores. “This is a hell of a birthday party,” Weinberg said.

With attendance high, the venue had to shift from the Whitney to One Beacon Court in the new Vornado building housing the Bloomberg headquarters between 58th and 59th Streets. Steven Roth, chairman and ceo of Vornado Realty Trust, allowed Coach, one of the evening’s sponsors, to rig a giant tent with 7-foot tall photos of architectural details of the Whitney, screened onto canvases.

Before entering the tent, cocktails were offered in the new Le Cirque next to the courtyard, providing a preview of the restaurant and its cuisine. Le Cirque, which opens May 31, catered the party.

Guests included developers Donald Trump and Sheldon Gordon; Federated executives Ron Klein, Sue Kronick, James Gray and Peter Sachse, as well as past ceo Allen Questrom and his wife, Kelli, and from Seventh Avenue, Michael Kors, Lew Frankfurt, Vera Wang, Tommy Hilfiger, Josie Natori, Paul Charron, Andrew Rosen and Tom Murry. Leonard Lauder was the honorary chairman, while Susan Hess and Delphine and Reed Krakoff were the event chairs.

“It’s the tenacious personality of Leonard that got this accomplished,” said Lundgren, who noted that Lauder persisted in convincing him to serve as honoree and began talking to him over three years ago. Other commitments made it impossible for Lundgren to participate sooner, but the wait was worth it. The event raised over $3 million, cracking the previous record of $1.7 million. The fund-raising was helped by the auctioning of three one-of-a-kind handbags created by Krakoff, Coach’s president and executive creative director, in collaboration with artists Marilyn Minter, Laurie Simmons and Kiki Smith, for $92,000 in total.

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Lundgren went home with a special award — an original watercolor of a five-legged cat by Louise Bourgeois. Where it hangs is to be determined. “You are all invited to Terry’s office tomorrow to view it,” Lauder said in jest. To which Lundgren responded: “I think it might hang in my apartment.”