At the Nasher Prize Award Gala on Saturday, April 1, at Dallas’s Nasher Sculpture Center, event Co-Chair Mary McDermott Cook paused during the pre-dinner reception to tell someone that she and her daughter/Co-Chair Grace Cook now “hold the record for fundraising” for the Gala, which was marking its seventh year. Then Mary added, “I’m just thankful for the beautiful night and the generosity of everyone who contributed.”
And, there were quite a few who did. With two presenting sponsors — The Eugene McDermott Foundation, along with Nancy A. Nasher and David J. Haemisegger — the 2023 Gala hosted 320 guests for the celebration of the international award, which recognizes a living artist whose work has had an extraordinary impact on the understanding of modern and contemporary sculpture.
This year’s black-tie edition featured an outdoor reception followed by a dinner and award program honoring Senga Nengudi, the 2023 Laureate. Senga is recognized as a leader in unconventional abstract sculpture using accessible materials such as used pantyhose, sand, and plastic bags filled with colored water.
The reception was a packed and convivial affair, with Nasher Sculpture Center Director Jeremy Strick greeting the likes of Donna Wilhelm, who would be hosting a table of all-women guests at the dinner; Joyce Goss and Kenny Goss; Liza and Will Lee; Agustin Arteaga and Carlos Jaime-Hernandez; Caren Prothro; and Dan Patterson with Mary and Grace, who both got their outfits for the evening from Dallas fashion designer Nardos Iman.
Among the other guests were Laura Wilson and Jessica Nowitzki — happy and proud that her husband, Dallas Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki, had just been named to the NBA Hall of Fame — Kim and Greg Hext; Howard Hallam; Cece Smith and Ford Lacy; Marlena and Brent English; Lee Cullum; Capera Ryan; and Marlene and John Sughrue. John, who helped develop next door’s controversial, 42-story Museum Tower building — whose reflective glass has been accused of flooding the Nasher and its grounds with harmful sunlight — said he’s still developing but now on a smaller scale, because, “maybe I learned my lesson.”
Fittingly, there was plenty of eye-catching fashion to celebrate the artful occasion, including sparkles (Debbie Green), bright colors (Jacqueline Stavi-Raines, Claire Gogel, Andrea Karnes and Paula Lambert), tuxedos (Lewis Chang and Sara Kay), ball gowns (Megan Bowdon-Wilkinson and Whitney West) and all types of footwear, including 2022 Nasher Prize Laureate Nairy Baghramian in a pair of cowboy boots.
Right on cue, the evening’s honoree arrived in a wheelchair surrounded by family and friends. The reason for the wheels: a slight car accident a couple of weeks before that had aggravated the 79-year-old artist’s knee. Just as she rolled by Mark di Suvero‘s rubber swing in the Nasher lobby, Senga was greeted by the Cook co-chairs and Jeremy.
The dinner and award ceremony unfolded in a huge, enchantedly decorated tent at the rear of the Nasher grounds. After the guests were welcomed by Strick and enjoyed their meal —Lyonnaise Salad, Roasted Spring Lamb and a Dessert Trio — the program kicked off with a haunting performance by dance artist Nycole Ray and vocalist Damon K. Clark. Then Mary took to the main stage, beginning with a joke: “I want to thank a lot of people, so it’ll only be 30 or 40 minutes. … Grace and I have never done anything before together, but we have had the most wonderful time.”
Mary’s daughter came next, lauding how “the vision of women have long been a force” in Dallas, before turning the mic over to Nancy Nasher. While photos of her late mother and father, Patsy and Ray Nasher, flashed on the big screen behind her, Nancy said that arts-aficionado Patsy had been the catalyst for the 20-year-old Sculpture Center and that, “in many ways, she was the museum’s first curator.”
With that, the Renzo Piano-designed Nasher Prize award was presented to Senga, who accepted the block of travertine marble with her family gathered around her. “These Nasher people know what they’re doing. … I thank everyone,” Senga told the crowd, adding, “But I did not do this on my own.”
When the thunderous ovation for the 2023 Laureate had died down, everyone was invited to continue the celebration at the Sculpture Center’s Afro Mingei pop-up space created by 2018 Nasher Prize Laureate Theaster Gates. There, guests would top off the evening enveloped in neon sculpture, soul music, and an ample supply of rich, dry Japanese whiskey.
For images of the night, check MySweetCharity Photo Gallery.