"Art transcends the culture of money. Tonight's honoree embodies this idea," said playwright, screenwriter, and librettist David Henry Hwang at the Hudson Theater in Midtown. As chair of the selection committee for 2005 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, he was referring to this year's recipient: theater, opera, and festival director Peter Sellars.
In his acceptance remarks, Mr. Sellars said, "We need a new series of people to admire" and spoke of all those of the younger generation of artists whose names the public does not yet know. He said he was going to "recycle" his award money (approximately $250,000) toward getting those talented people of the next generation better recognized for their work.
Seen in attendance were nonprofit consultant Alberta Arthurs; Virginia Dajani, director of the American Academy of Arts and Letters; and novelist Brad Gooch. Also present were Richard Nguyen and Jeremy Lee, who met Mr. Sellars while he was a visiting teacher at UCLA.
The Knickerbocker spoke with Stuart Oderman, who wrote "Lillian Gish: A Life on Stage and Screen" (McFarland & Co.). He recalled having met Lillian Gish when he was a young boy skipping class to watch D.W. Griffith's film "Broken Blossoms" at the Museum of Modern Art. At the performance, he saw the famed actress and said, "You're Lillian Gish!" She replied, "You belong in school!" He told her he wanted to become a silent film pianist; she proceeded to introduce him to film pianist Arthur Kleiner in the room, and his career had begun.
At the Gish Prize ceremony, Gilbert Kalish on piano accompanied soprano Dawn Upshaw, who performed "Lua Descolorida" by Osvaldo Golijov and "Magnificat (from El Nino)" by John Adams, to audience delight. In her introductory remarks, Ms. Upshaw said, "Peter changes all our lives." Likewise in remarks that evening, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison praised Mr. Sellars in saying, "The glow of this prize is located in its selectee."
Having helped to reshape modern opera with his bold direction, Mr. Sellars keeps a whirlwind schedule: This month with the San Francisco Opera, he will oversee the debut of John Adams's "Doctor Atomic" about the development of the bomb, and in November, Mr. Sellars's new production of Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" will open with the Paris Opera.
The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize ranges each year to award a spectrum of disciplines in the arts. Previous winners include dancer Bill T. Jones, Merce Cunningham, Arthur Miller, Robert Wilson, Ingmar Bergman, and Frank Gehry.
GARBO TALK Wayne Koestenbaum, Andrew Sarris, and Charles Busch were featured on a panel about film legend Greta Garbo last week at Columbia University's Miller Theatre.
The Knickerbocker noted a few anecdotes. It seems Garbo contemplated a comeback in a Max Ophuls film, but the studio that was to finance it lost a fortune on Ingrid Bergman's "Joan of Arc": It's ironic that her fellow Scandinavian may have prevented up her comeback.
Andy Warhol once sat next to Gar bo and drew a flower on a napkin and handed it to her. She crumpled it up and threw it back at him. He uncrumpled it and wrote, "Flower crumpled by Garbo," adding "signed Andy Warhol."
ART-WORLD APPLAUSE At the Manhattan studio of artist and author Jonathan Santlofer, a gathering of alums of Yaddo, the artists' community in Saratoga Springs, gathered last week. The event is the first in a series called "Works in Progress," sponsored by the Maurer Family Foundation, in which artists and audiences engage in a dialogue about the creative process.
Dressed in what Mr. Santlofer called his "artist's costume" - black pants and black shirt - he told the audience about an experience he had in the Midwest. "I once went to Chicago and had a one-man exhibition open on a Friday and [literally] burn down on a Saturday." He recalled telling a Chicago reporter, "I'd wanted to be liked by Chicagoans, but not to be the toast of the town."
He said losing his art in the show afforded him an opportunity to reappraise his notions of art's permanence. For five years he didn't exhibit his work. Mr. Santlofer had been an abstractionist; after the fire, he dedicated himself to representational art.
Mr. Santlofer's new thriller, "The Killing Art: A Novel of Suspense" (William Morrow), contains graphic images that serve as lethal clues in the story.
Seen were poet Jan Heller Levi, who is literary executor of the late poet June Jordan. She will appear with poets such as Adrienne Rich, Joy Harjo, and Cornelius Eady in paying tribute to Jordan this Thursday at Hunter College. Ms. Heller Levi has a second collection of poems coming out soon called "Skyspeak" (Louisiana State University Press). With Ms. Heller Levi that evening was her husband, Swiss novelist and playwright Christoph Keller, author of "The Last Dance" and the forthcoming book "Stieglitz."