The Museum of Modern Art’s “Party in the Garden,” an annual gala benefiting the museum, brought out celebs and other immaculately dressed art lovers Wednesday night in New York. Alongside Vera Wang, Helen Mirren and others, the city’s merely rich-and-pretty mingled in a sculpture garden that had been made over with white Astroturf-like carpet; boxy platforms enclosed pieces of sculpture, like Aristide Maillol’s The River, that ordinarily get more breathing room in this open-air gathering spot.
But as the cocktail hour and formal dinner (which honored L.A. artist Mark Bradford, among others) drew to a close, a few dressed-down characters arrived in twos and threes. Clad in denim or sporty caps, they did little mingling as they stopped at the open bar on their way to a darkened stage. They were the die-hard Robyn fans, angling to be in the front row, and, though the swells in the VIP section didn’t know it, the afterparty was designed for them.
The Swedish pop star, you see, had not crafted her set list for the casual fans one might expect at an affair drawing everyone from young galleristas to a 100-year-old Rockefeller. There would be no “Dancing on My Own” or “Hang With Me,” and the songs that were familiar would be filtered through others’ imaginations — songs the artist commissioned remixes for, then performed with a live band as the remixers envisioned them. The result was an even dancier set than concertgoers anticipated.
Wearing her customary cropped blond hair and a flowy, glittery pantsuit by Michael Halpern, Robyn opened with a song by another musician, Kindness‘ “Who Do You Love,” for which she contributed guest vocals in 2014. Her voice submerged in a wash of effects. The song merged easily into a faster new one, “Right Time.”
Working the crowd not with banter (she said next to nothing during the almost 40-minute performance) but with outré dancing and a tough-girl gaze, Robyn then stepped down onto the lip of the stage for “Love Is Free,” a fiery duet with New York “tropical punk” singer Maluca. Her next, unnamed guest didn’t sing, showing up only for a brief dance-off in a barely there skirt before slipping back behind the stage’s mirrored partitions. A couple of songs later, Robyn was joined by Zhala, the Kurdish-Swedish singer she signed to her Konichiwa Records label.
This bounty of guests will likely fit just fine within the star’s showcase at this weekend’s Governors Ball, but it seemed to perplex some in the crowd at MoMA, who perhaps expected more one-on-one connection in this intimate (if glamorous) setting. In fact, the evening’s most emotionally connected number, a song called “Main Thing” that quoted Lou Rawls‘ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” found the singer in her own world, dancing dreamily while her band kept things going.
Dancing on her own, you might say, though fans would have to hope to hear that song a few days from now, at a substantially more crowded outdoor event.