With the USC marching band, a performance by The Go-Go's, stand-up comedy routines and hot fudge sundaes, the YESSSSS! Gala for Los Angeles' MOCA was almost as varied as the new exhibit it celebrates.
On Saturday night, more than 650 guests showed up to celebrate what supporters hope is a new chapter for the financially beleaguered downtown museum and to tour Urs Fischer's new career survey, which opened Sunday and sprawls across both MOCA Grand Avenue and its Geffen Contemporary space. In the latter building, hundreds of rough clay sculptures fill the space, a dizzying panoply of animal forms and human figures created in concert with Fischer by more than 1,500 people who showed up over two months to create. Fischer — whose work in the Grand Avenue space include a house made of crumbling bread, plaster raindrops strung from the ceiling and a colorful bed made of cast aluminum crumpled and melted — is best known for digging a hole in the floor of Gavin Brown's Enterprise in 2007.
At 8 p.m., guests -- who included the likes of Grey's Anatomy's Ellen Pompeo, artist and filmmaker Miranda July, Brian Grazer, Julian Schnabel, Peter Brant with wife Stephanie Seymour, Cameron Silver of Bravo's Dukes of Melrose, Jennifer Tilly, Lisa Edelstein, Wolfgang Puck, L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Terry Richardson, China Chow, Shepard Fairey and Fashion Police's George Kotsiopoulos — moved in to the dinner portion of the evening, which saw MOCA co-chair Maria Arena Bell address the swirl of stories in recent months over MOCA's future. Since flirting with the idea of merging with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the museum recently signaled its intention to stay independent and announced pledges that took its endowment from $22 million to $75 million from the likes of Wallis Annenberg, Edye and Eli Broad and Alexandra and Steven Cohen to restore its endowment. "So much has been raised, and we're seeing so much enthusiasm for MOCA and its programs," said Bell. Saturday's event raised $2.5 million.
She also addressed any Jeffrey Deitch critics who've wailed that he's "gone Hollywood," referring no doubt to the director's 2010 Dennis Hopper show, the upcoming "Fire in the Disco" show and finally, the performance piece "SOAP at MOCA," which brought James Franco's General Hospital character into the museum space. "I want you to know that Jeffrey Deitch is very serious in his programming. We are 110 percent behind him," Bell said.
Then, an actual soap actor, Stephen Nichols, who's starred on The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives, came out pretending to be Deitch and riffed on the controversial museum director. "We are especially excited about our disco exhibition coming up next year. We don't have to wait for 2014 to dance in the museum. We invite you to dance in the museum tonight." Other guests included MOCA boardmembers Steve Tisch, Peter Morton, Ari Emanuel, Darren Star and Susan Gersh.
Every year, MOCA gives the gala "over to an artistic vision," said Bell, and that artist Rob Pruitt, this year's visionary, was inspired by 4/20. "If you don't know what that means, ask your teenagers," she said. "It's a night to celebrate." The 4/20 theme was carried through with a marijuana leaf logo on the menus and pillows and throw blankets adorning the sofas and lounge chairs for guests. A 4/20 buffet also featured stoner food favorites such as Chinese takeout, pizza and junk food. Among those indulging was Grazer, who was enjoying a hot fudge sundae.
The night's entertainment certainly ran the gamut, with The Go-Go's getting the crowd up on their feet for "Vacation" and "Our Lips Are Sealed," the marching band streaming through the crowd at one point and, later, a couple of comedians struggling to get laughs across the huge party space.
Mark Mothersbaugh performed wearing a multi-colored Hawaiian lei (as did most guests -- they were given out). Following his performance, Burning Love's Kumail Nanjiani said, "I know Mark Mothersbaugh was up here and barely anyone cared, so I know I don't have a shot." Comedy Central's Nick Kroll also did a set and poked fun at the night's 4/20 theme: "It's a national holiday for doing pot. There's no national holiday for doing coke. I smoke a little bit of pot … constantly. Do you have any idea how weird it is doing comedy up here? It's so weird."
The weirdness of the evening seemed very self-conscious, with other quirky accents to Pruitt's vision including a goat petting zoo, video projections of cat memes and how-to videos, a taffy-making station and a cotton candy machine spinning sweetness onto glow sticks.