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The National Arts Awards' Prized Work

Amy Phelan joined the event's chair Maria Bell, Larry Gagosian, Chuck Close, Paul Auster and Eli Broad for the gala dinner.

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Nancy Pelosi and Caroline Kennedy

Photo By Steve Eichner

Artists are used to working behind whatever medium they choose — a canvas, a camera or an instrument. But on Monday night, they got a red carpet, masses of paparazzi and enough prizes to make any movie star feel good.

"I feel like it's the Oscars," said arts patron Amy Phelan, who joined event chair Maria Bell, Larry Gagosian, Chuck Close, Paul Auster and Eli Broad for the gala dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street. Although, unlike the Oscars, however, this was a fund-raiser and garnered $625,000 for the arts advocacy organization.

"I just don't want to drop my award on my toe. They must weigh about 20 pounds," lamented painter Ed Ruscha, who was being honored for Artistic Excellence. ("I think they picked my name out of a hat," he modestly confided.)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also made an appearance, to present Robert Redford with the Lifetime Achievement Award. She was star struck by the talent in the room: "Oh my god, Jeff Koons," she exclaimed as her staff led her over to be introduced.

During Ruscha’s speech, he made a pretty good proposition for his fellow honorees. "I have an idea that maybe we could collaborate on something — we could make a movie of ‘The Satanic Verses,’" he said to much laughter. "Robert can direct it, Salman [Rushdie] can do the screenplay, [Bank of America's] Anne Finucane and [philanthropist] Sidney Harman can bankroll it and I can design the titles. And also I could art direct the ‘Wanted’ poster for the five of us."

"I'd like to take Ed up on his offer," said Rushdie as he accepted the Kitty Carlisle Hart Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Arts later in the evening. "As long as I can be in the movie."

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