The Master of Festivities // A Night Out with Carlo von Zeitschel

Liesl Schillinger, New York Times, July 1, 2007

QUICK: Where can you find wall-mounted war photographs, a foosball table, a Colombian D.J., models, artists, toddlers and a Eurail-load (or L-train-load) of sleek chain smokers all in one room? Add an unending supply of wine, vodka and Peroni, and the answer two Fridays ago was - as it often is - at a Carlo von Zeitschel art party.

 

Mr. von Zeitschel, 25, a German baron and an Italian viscount (he loathes talking about his background, but it's part of his aura), arrived in New York, via Paris and Milan, in 2004 and began exploring the gallery business and hunting his own artists.

 

"I didn't really like the idea of selling works of artists who are already super-established and famous for exorbitant sums of money to my parents' friends," he said. "I wanted to not just sell contemporary art but to get my contemporaries involved."

 

He opened his SoHo gallery, CVZ Contemporary, on Dec. 14, 2004, with an inaugural party that drew a thousand guests. "We were blocking traffic," he said. "It was kind of an experiment that worked."

 

He's given four opening parties since last fall, each crammed with his Dolce-Vita-meets-block-party crowd. But on June 22, he reached an early apotheosis when his gallery (also his home) was chosen as a party site for Magnum Photos' 60th anniversary celebration. The show, an exhibition of Paolo Pellegrin's photographs titled "Double Blind: Lebanon Conflict 2006," runs through July 15. Though the subject matter could not have been more serious, the mood, as at all of Mr. von Zeitschel's parties, sparkled with flirtatious revelry.

 

Elliott Erwitt and David Hurn, the famous Magnum photographers, crowded next to D.J. Memek in the elevator ride up to the loft. "The elevator is the great attraction," Mr. Erwitt joked. But as the doors opened to the 5,000-square-foot loft, hundreds of guests were already mingling amid the cozy islands Mr. von Zeitschel created in his cavernous space. By the bar (it's his kitchen counter, and oven mitts hang from drawer knobs), a young fashion assistant from Barcelona, Elisabet Caner, spoke with a handsome young Italian man. "We just met," he said. "I don't know Carlo, but she met him in Ibiza."

 

Some guests came for the art. "This is the best picture," Mr. Erwitt said, pointing to a giant Pellegrin photo near the foosball table (where guests clutched Peronis and avidly joggled the player bars) that showed an anguished man standing amid rubble. "It almost looks like a Caravaggio," Mr. von Zeitschel said. Scott Anderson, the journalist who accompanied Mr. Pellegrin through Lebanon, said that the photograph showed a man at the moment the body of his 10-year-old daughter was found.

 

Under the D.J. loft, a graphic designer, Johnathan Swafford, said: "I think with the photos here, the thing is the dualism. Like, on the wall there's some dude dying, and then right next to it, you've got some drunk guy talking about who he's going to sleep with next." As if on cue, a drunk guy shrieked, "I only care about the vodka!"

 

Mr. von Zeitschel, tawny-skinned, green-eyed and angular, roamed the party, looking like someone plucked from the film "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis."

 

Waving his arm indulgently, he said: "Everyone looks after each other here. If the booze runs out, someone runs out and gets more and I don't even know about it." As the bass beat deepened, Mr. von Zeitschel roared, "The night is in diapers!" and melted into the throng. Elliott Erwitt was nowhere in sight.