A celebration of the life of Jonathan Napack, the impresario of Asian art, adviser to Art Basel and radical journalist who died last winter at age 39, was held Tuesday night at the Lotos Club, off Central Park.
Stuffed to the gills with pillows and portraits, the Lotos is one of the most exclusive and secretive private clubs in Manhattan. The walls of the dining room are covered with framed menus from tribute dinners to past luminaries: We spotted souvenirs of bashes devoted to Harry Truman, Joe DiMaggio and Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter. Jonathan’s gentlemanly stepfather Howard Phillips introduced a roster of speakers which included Jonathan’s friends from Trinity School and Boston College, and, representing the art world, the divine Elaine Ng, publisher and editor of Art Asia Pacific, and your correspondent. Among the few art world attendees were publicist Sara Fitzmaurice and Sam Keller, Art Basel czar, who announced that an anthology of Jonathan’s writings would be published in conjunction with Art Basel Miami next December.
It is customary nowadays to project photographs of the departed, from all aspects of a life, during a memorial, and it is especially moving to see childhood pictures of a friend whom you first met in adulthood. The precocious Jonathan, who began teaching himself Chinese at the age of 8, came across as Penrod or Tom Sawyer, with soulful eyes and a thick mop of wavy hair. It was also disconcerting to see photos of Jonathan in China: tanned, muscle-bound for the first time in his life, the cocky picture of health. Howard Phillips told me that in the last year of his life, Jonathan had guided his mother Carol and himself through Burma, Vietnam and other Far Eastern destinations with the authority of an emperor.
Elaine Ng spoke of a book Jonathan was writing, never to be completed, and Jonathan’s seductive ways of buying more time from his editors, a lifelong habit. She remembered taking Jonathan to David Tang’s notorious Mao Club in Hong Kong a decade ago, where everything from the wait staff to the cigars were festooned, sardonically, with images of the Chairman. "The art on view at Tang’s Club," she told us, "now sells for millions at auction."
The Tang Club was the inspiration for Jonathan’s move to Hong Kong and the bold, new identity summarized by his Chinese name, Jiang Luo San, or "Parachute." Falling free into eternity for one so young and gifted will always leave Jonathan’s friends and family as empty as the sky.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).