Patti Smith Sings for a ‘New York Gem’


Over a century ago, J.P. Morgan built a majestic library for his opulent mansion in Midtown Manhattan. After his death, his son, the financier Jack Morgan, opened it to the public in 1924, and it eventually became the Morgan Library & Museum. Last night, crowds of art patrons and well-heeled bibliophiles gathered in that grand library to attend the Morgan’s centennial celebration.

Beneath stained glass windows and murals of Dante and Socrates, guests wearing tuxedos sipped martinis while a violinist performed classical covers of pop songs by Keane and Taylor Swift. Servers wended through the crowd, carrying hors d’oeuvres trays of crescent duck and caviar as they passed shelves lined with rare editions of works by Rousseau and Voltaire.

Devotees of the Morgan like the architect Peter Marino, the art dealer Vito Schnabel and the artist Walton Ford were in attendance. Patti Smith and her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, who would soon perform a song together at the evening’s dinner, pulled away from the cocktail hour to stroll through the exhibit “Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature,” which displays the manuscripts and picture letters of the creator of Peter Rabbit and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

“Through her ephemera, you can feel Potter looking at her paint brushes,” Patti Smith said. “The Morgan’s collection honors the hand that writes the book. You get a sense of what an artist or writer was thinking as they were creating. You can see the energy lifting off Beethoven’s ink-splotched pages.”

Mr. Schnabel remembered a boyhood visit to the Morgan.

“When I was a boy, Rene Ricard brought me to see drawings here, so the Morgan has always been dear to my heart,” he said. “To me, the Morgan is a New York gem.”

Peter Pennoyer, an architect and a great-great-grandson of J.P. Morgan, stood beside a display case containing an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible.

“My grandmother used to run around here as a little girl,” he said.

Guests soon sat for dinner in Gilbert Court, a modernistic pavilion designed by Renzo Piano. As they ate beet salad with feta cheese, Lawrence R. Ricciardi, the Morgan’s board president, announced a $10 million gift from Katharine Rayner, the media and automotive heiress.

Colin B. Bailey, the Morgan’s director, spoke next and was followed by a performance from Latonia Moore, the opera soprano. Ms. Smith then took the stage to read a poem by Emily Dickinson, and she sang a version of her song “Wing,” accompanied on the piano by her daughter.

Mr. Marino, who wore rings of silver eagles on his hand, finished his Tahitian panna cotta as dinner came to an end. “The recent Tiepolo exhibit here was off the charts,” he said. “The Morgan might be smaller than the big New York museums, but to me it has more humanity than all of them combined.”

Back in the grand library, the evening’s after-party was about to start. A D.J. began spinning dance hits near a three-foot ornamental cake that resembled a stack of rare Victorian and Medieval book bindings. Taking the floor once more, Ms. Smith led the crowd in song.

“Happy birthday, dear Morgan Library,” she sang. “Happy birthday to you.”



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