In recent months, news about Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art's financial status has been dire, so the reports that not only have their donors pitched in to bring their endowment up to a breathable $75 million, but that we can observe something as giddy and celebratory as artist Urs Fischer’s new exhibition at the museum, is welcome indeed. Fischer’s show will be previewed and feted tonight at MOCA’s Apr. 20 annual gala, which is organized by art’s preeminent mischief maker Rob Pruitt. Fischer, a Swiss sculptor who lives in New York, has spent the past two months putting together a survey of his work, which when viewed all at once shows incredible breadth in sculptures made from a variety of materials like candle wax, bread, mirror-glass, and aluminum.
“You know all the nonsense around the museum; this is what we do,” said MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, at Friday’s press preview, referring to the financial issues, firings, and board abdications that have marred the museum’s reputation of late. “As far as I’m concerned, this is excellent. For three years, there’s been this crazy non-stop criticism, and we were worried that if we had a gala, we’d be boycotted. So we said, ‘Let’s forget the normal gala. This is going to be something great to celebrate, and there are going to be people coming from all over the world. Let’s build the gala around Urs’ opening.’ ”
They invited Pruitt, a major artist who is represented by the same gallery as Fischer in New York, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, to bring together what should be an incredible evening of food and posh behavior, with performances by Mark Mothersbaugh, The Go-Go’s, and Jennifer Herrema and Black Bananas. Pruitt knows how to throw an art event—his Art Awards, a wry artsy Academy Awards-style show, attracted New York's art world cognoscenti in 2009 and 2010.
“I'm really excited that the gala falls on 4/20,” Pruitt explains. “That was a big inspiration! And I suppose the special thing that I bring to the party is an admiration and respect for the like of Robert Isabell and Martha Stewart. I really see their creative endeavors as equal to any of history’s canonized museum artists. Party planning is serious.” He’ll have some big shoes to fill: in 2009, Lady Gaga serenaded the likes of James Franco and Gwen Stefani on a Terence Koh-built piano and in 2011, Marina Abramovic controversially had performers sit for hours on pedestals with their heads jutting out of the middle of the tables, rotating and holding stares while guests ate. Expected attendees of this year’s gala, dubbed the YESSSSS! Party, include co-chairs Maria Arena Bell and Eli Broad, honorary chairs Larry Gagosian and WME’s Ari Emanuel and guests Jim Berkus of UTA, Jesse Dylan, David Gersh, entertainment lawyer Alan Hergott, Randy Jackson, Sotheby’s Tobias Meyer, Ellen Pompeo,John C. Reilly, Gus Van Sant and Julian Schnabel, but if past MOCA galas are any indication, there will be A-listers galore to add to that list.
Fischer became best known for digging a hole, literally, in the floor of Gavin Brown's Enterprise (You, 2007). His survey fills up the galleries at MOCA’s Grand Avenue location, as well as its Geffen Contemporary space a few blocks away. The Grand Avenue works are older works, including a house made of crumbling bread -- which gives the room a yeasty, warm smell -- plaster raindrops strung from the ceiling, a room of mirrored boxes silkscreened with images both pop (Tic-Tacs) and mundane (a #2 pencil), a colorful bed made of cast aluminum crumpled and melted, and sculpted figurative skeletons reclining and looking into mirrors. “There’s this mad imagination,” says exhibition curator Jessica Morgan, who is over from London where she holds the post of Daskalopoulos Curator of International Art at Tate Modern. “The ‘Why would you have ever thought of doing that?’ aspect of his work. There’s a new piece that’s a horse with a hospital bed driving through it. As he was describing it to me, I was like, ‘Where do you come up with this stuff?’”
But it’s the Geffen work that’s most impressive. Fischer plopped a giant slab of clay down and held an open call to the public to come down and make sculptures. 1,500 people descended on the museum earlier this month, including Franco, and the results are unbelievable. The entire Geffen is filled with clay sculptures both massive and tiny, including a whole pedestal of busts of Deitch. “Everybody just starts doing something, nobody’s judgmental, and people just create things,” says Fischer. “I enjoyed it. It was the most fun I had making art in a long time.”
Peter Morton, the co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe, a MOCA trustee and a longtime collector of Fischer’s work, gave the initial contribution to get the ball rolling on the exhibition. “I love everything about him,” Morton says, “from his work to his persona to his philosophy, and most importantly, how he transforms the museum with his art. It’s not just about putting paintings on a wall or sculptures in a room; he literally transforms the museum.”
The exhibition opens to the public on Sunday and runs through Aug. 19.