by Bennett Marcus
Madonna released her Secret Project Revolution film in cities around the world on Monday. On Tuesday, the Material Girl herself, along with Vice and BitTorrent, hosted the film’s premiere and the official launch of Art for Freedom with a dazzling event in New York City.
The invitation advised that guests arrive at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea as close to 10 p.m. as possible and that the doors would be closed at 10:45 p.m. promptly. Madge turned up on time, stepped onto a marked-off stage area on one side of the gallery, and instructed everyone to sit on the polished-concrete floor.
She requested silence—no mean feat at a party of a few hundred—and the crowd obeyed. Then she started off with a 12-minute speech, mixing in a few jokes with her rather serious message about political and artistic freedom. Some highlights:
“The reason I’ve asked you to sit down—well, there’s a few reasons,” began Madonna. “One is that when you find yourself fighting for a revolution, you find yourself paying for everything, and we have to prioritize when we pay for things. So if it’s between a sound system and chairs, we choose the sound system. If it’s between a fully stocked bar and good lights, we choose lights, right? [Pause.] That was a joke.”
There was, in fact, an open bar, with bartenders in gas masks. She continued on a more serious note, underlining the importance of creative expression.
“The word ‘freedom’ is very important to me,” she said. “I’m a little bit nervous. I think it’s because I care, maybe too much. This film, aside from my children, is, to me, the most important thing I’ve ever done, because the idea of being free, and being able to freely express myself, not only as an artist but as a human being, is extremely important.
BY KEVIN MAZUR/GETTY IMAGES.Sean Penn and Madonna.
“It’s not just that you can be killed for being gay in Iran or that you can be imprisoned for insulting Mr. Putin . . . I want to start a movement of people, of artists, who are not worried about winning popularity contests, who are not worried about approval, who are not worried about whether their ass looks good—although it is important to have a good-looking ass.”
After this introduction, the movie played (you can now see it online here). Afterward, the same dancers who appeared in the film performed, accompanied by a pianist and saxophonist.
A couple of uniformed police officers, who had menacingly lined the edges of the stage during the performance, made their way into the center of the seated crowd and began manhandling someone who turned out to be Madonna. They pulled her from the floor and shoved her onto the stage, where she sank to her knees, and then sang Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars.”
A masked dancer joined her. He turned out to be her son, Rocco Ritchie. Madonna’s performance was a surprise, even to the event’s organizers.
There were celebrities everywhere around the room. We spotted Anderson Cooper, Lucy Liu, Donna Karan, Lee Daniels, and Chuck Close, to name a few. At one point, we got up off the floor and stood at the edge of the crowd and turned our head to discover Sean Penn puffing an e-cigarette next to us.
At the end, Madonna made her way directly into the crowd, greeting high-profile attendees like Giancarlo Giammetti and Zac Posen, while allowing the guests to swarm around her, pressing in, camera phones snapping. Surrounded by a cloud of people, she continued in this way through the space, air-kissing pals right to the doors, and left.