The acorns were the only unexpected guests. It was the night of the annual fall gala known as Two x Two for AIDS and Art, and a red oak stood tall over the tent that welcomed invitees to the North Dallas home of Howard and Cindy Rachofsky. Just as they had for the past thirteen years, the couple had opened their three-story house and backyard for the city’s most anticipated party, a sit-down dinner and art auction whose multimillion-dollar proceeds would benefit both the Dallas Museum of Art and amfAR, an AIDS research foundation. All evening, the stately tree had been releasing its fruit onto sequined and jeweled, bow-tied and boutonniered guests, whose calligraphed place cards inside the tent read names such as Perot, Jones, and Marcus. For anyone in Louboutins, the acorns now scattered outside presented a treacherous walk to the restrooms.
They did not, however, put a dent in the mood. The buzz for this year’s party had begun as far back as April, when news broke that New York artist Richard Phillips, renowned for what critics describe as “hyperrealistic” paintings that are both beautiful and disturbing, had agreed to donate a nearly eight-foot-tall portrait of Lindsay Lohan for the auction. Then word spread that Lee Ufan, the great Korean-born minimalist, was sending a drawing from his wildly popular From Line series—the piece consisting of some short, squiggly lines brushed across a paper canvas.
The excitement continued to grow when Los Angeles artist Elliott Hundley promised Two x Two one of his much-admired collages: Rose, a canvas filled with old photos, magazine scraps, and tiny fabric pieces held in place by hundreds of pins. Dana Schutz, a New Yorker whose flamboyant, colorful work resides in museums worldwide, announced that she would be donating Bra Removal, a painting of a grotesque-looking woman with monkey-like eyes struggling to undress without exposing herself. And Brazilian artist Alexandre da Cunha ordered his gallery to send one of his favorite creations, 1345041010, composed of a green bottle stuck headfirst into a concrete block.
By October 20, the day of the event, a slew of pre-festivities, including a Karl Lagerfeld–themed party to preview the art, had brought the anticipation to a fever pitch. (Guests at that soiree got to pose for photos in white-ponytail wigs and fingerless gloves.) And Two x Two was a sellout: 450 partygoers had paid at least $1,500 each to sip Dom Pérignon, nibble on caviar, feast on Imperial Farm sous-vide calotte de boeuf, and bid against one another on 131 pieces of avant-garde art, including Joel Kyack’s rather curious Let’s Sit on the Porch, It’s Nice Out, a piece featuring a black balloon attached to a white plastic chair; a hose; a beer cooler; and a glass jar, from which poured what looked to be urine.
The Rachofskys had arranged for guests to promenade toward their home—an all-white, 10,000-square-foot cube designed by modernist architect Richard Meier—over a twenty-foot-long carpet made of 100,000 fake rose petals. On the exterior walls of the house shone giant projected images of roses as well as the corporate logo of event sponsor Neiman Marcus. “Perfect, just perfect,” said Cindy as she made one last inspection of the pink-washed tent about an hour before the party. The tent, where the dinner and auction would take place, was entirely camouflaged by boxwoods. Cindy was clad in an ostrich-feather skirt and a pink-satin opera coat, and as she walked among the tables, a few feathers broke free and floated lightly in the air. A few minutes later, Howard, a bespectacled, bearded former hedge-fund wizard, stepped out of the house in an electric-blue tuxedo and a ruffled black shirt. “Those damn acorns keep falling,” noted the 68-year-old to a groundskeeper. Howard looked across the lawn, where hundreds of Kiehl’s goody bags waited to be claimed. Then he stepped onto the fake-petal carpet, testing it out with his patent leather shoes.
Outsiders take great pleasure in describing Dallas as the most culturally hidebound of Texas cities, a paved-over landscape inhabited by staid citizens whose primary concerns are to make money and build big buildings. But perhaps in defiant response to this perception, or perhaps because such a concrete-filled existence demands it, Dallas is also a city of parties—the kind of place where who wore what to the Crystal Charity Ball is every bit as crucial as, say, the most recent report on job growth from the Federal Reserve. So it is only fitting that a party should be largely responsible for making the city what few could have imagined: a bona fide contemporary-art destination. “Two x Two introduced Dallas to new artists,” explains Lucilo Peña, the president of development at the Billingsley Company and a past chairman for the event. “But more important, it has strengthened relationships between collectors in Dallas and the New York galleries. It has made Dallas look good on the international art scene, no question.”
Dallas, in fact, has long been home to some of the country’s most devoted contemporary-art collectors: Raymond Nasher, who filled up NorthPark Center with large-scale sculptures and later built his $70 million namesake museum downtown; Coca-Cola bottling magnate Robert Hoffman, whose affinity for pieces by the likes of Diebenkorn, Twombly, Judd, and Richter led him to build a two-level gallery on his Preston Hollow estate; former Texas Rangers co-owner Rusty Rose and his wife, Deedie, whose taste for the modern is most visibly reflected in their bunker-like, Antoine Predock–designed house in Highland Park; and even Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has championed the efforts of his wife, Gene, to install abstract works in Cowboys Stadium. (One such piece, affixed above a concession stand, is titled—are you ready?—Unexpected Variable Configurations: A Work in Situ.)
And then there’s Howard Rachofsky, the son of a Dallas pawnshop owner. As a young man, his interests were pragmatic: he studied business at the Wharton School, in Philadelphia, and attended law school at the University of Texas at Austin before turning to stock trading. The