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In 1994, MOCA presented philanthropist and notable arts force Beatrice Gersh with the very first Women in the Arts award. On Wednesday, the museum gathered L.A. art collectors, aficionados, fans, friends and artists for another luncheon. This one, held in the Beverly Wilshire’s main ballroom (lit with such soft, warm lighting that many joked they didn’t know if it was day or night), marked the 9th Distinguished Women in the Arts event and provided a full circle moment for the Gersh family.
Beatrice’s daughter-in-law, Susan Gersh, graced the stage to accept a plaque alongside artist Marilyn Minter as MOCA’S distinguished guests. And the Gersh family’s history of supporting the arts didn’t go unnoticed.
Curator Paul Schimmel presented Susan (or Susie as she was so commonly referred to onstage Wednesday, and by close friends offstage) with her plaque and commented that she had fulfilled the legacy. “It’s important to celebrate how significant it is that Bea was the first recipient of this award,” he noted. “Susie is being honored for being one of these very rare people in a city that in some ways doesn’t fully appreciate legacy, history. [People here] sometimes want to break with the past. Instead, Susie saw the value.”
Speaking of her vision, after accepting the plaque following Schimmel’s lengthy introduction, Susan recounted her views of Los Angeles upon moving here in 1971 after marrying David Gersh, who heads up the Gersh Agency. “I was excited about my new home and my belief was that L.A. was a city where anything was possible. I found L.A. opened to those that worked hard, were good at what they did and had some luck. I had a vision of L.A. as the creative center of America, in fact the world,” said Susan, adding that contemporary art has been a passion of hers for her entire adult life.
And MOCA certainly is on that list of passions, too. She’s a charter founder and has served on the Projects Council (organizer of the Women in the Arts event), the Board of Trustees and various committees for education, development, ethics, finance, investment and executive boards. French curator and MOCA director Philippe Vergne mentioned her years of service to the institution, joking, “She joined MOCA as a charter founder in 1981 when she was three years old.” On a serious note, he added: “This museum wouldn’t be what this museum is — our collection wouldn’t be what it is — without Susan’s generosity and the entire Gersh family’s generosity.”
Susan returned the favor by complimenting Vergne but not without noting that her time with MOCA hasn’t always been a breeze. “During challenging times at the museum, I was focused and determined to see the museum remain independent. I’m proud to say that MOCA, under the skilled leadership of Philippe Vergne, is thriving,” she said.
Vergne didn’t save all the praise for Susan. He also presented Minter with her plaque, describing her provocative work and how she plays up themes of gender, sexuality, beauty and uncontrollable desires. “Her work transcends our guilty pleasures,” he explained. “And celebrates the beauty of human desire. The highest, the lowest — doesn’t really matter. It’s all desire.”
He then called her a “fabulous” and “fantastic” artist but one with a keen eye on civic duty having recently raised $2.3 million for Planned Parenthood. The latter fact generated a healthy applause in the room packed predominately by women. And Minter noticed.
“I’m so glad to be in this room of ferocious women,” she said, before listing off notable names in L.A.’s art world. “You’re my girls. I really believe that women run the art world. This is a room full of women who are leaning in.”
And then she closed her short speech with this presidential campaign rally cry: “I love Bernie, but Hillary can win.”
Meanwhile, Susan wrapped up her speech by closing the circle. “Bea was not only family, but also my best friend and mentor. One of my great pleasures was that she was able to see me join her on the MOCA board,” she said. “My husband David has been my partner on life’s exciting journey. David and our children, Laura, Steven, Steven’s wife Christie, and their son Carter, are the loves of my life. And they make everything possible.”
The crowd then let out a collective, “Aww.” A similar sound could be heard later during the special presentation of the Fall 2015 Michael Kors Collection presentation. Checking out the runway ensembles and congratulating Susan and Minter were Allison Brie, Camilla Belle, Erin Foster, Aubrey Plaza, Jane Siegal, Bettina Korek, Mariel Joliet, Virginie Degryse, Helen Molesworth, Pam Smith, Marla Diamond, Shaun Caley Regen, Kathi Cypres, Sydney Holland, Carolyn Powers, Clara Berta, Frances Arkin, Judy Salzberg, Matthew Smith and Mandy Smith, Elizabeth Goulds and Peter Goulds, Nancy Rubins, CAA’s Thao Nguyen, Aileen Getty, Karon Davis, Crystal Lourd, Marilyn Resnick, Andrew Gould, Steven Hamilton, Kennon Klein, John McIlwee, Lynda Reznick, Joanne Heyler, Carla Sands and Vergne’s wife Sylvia Chivaratanond.
Paul Schimmel speaks onstage during the luncheon. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for MICHAEL KORS)
Erin Foster, Camilla Belle, Aubrey Plaza and Alison Brie attend the luncheon. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for MOCA)
Philippe Vergne, Marilyn Minter and Susan Gersh pose together following the plaque ceremony. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for MOCA)
Philippe Vergne and Sylvia Chivaratanond at the luncheon. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for MOCA)
A model walks onstage during Michael Kors presentation. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for MICHAEL KORS)
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