After four decades of offering some of the most adventurous, audacious and astounding works of contemporary artwork Los Angeles has ever seen, the Museum of Contemporary Art marked its 40th anniversary with a glitterati-studded fete that required some semantic definition upfront.
“This is not a ‘party,’ this is not an ‘event,’ and this is most certainly not a ‘gala,'” MOCA board chair Maria Seferian told the 700 guests who’d assembled inside the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in downtown Los Angeles to raise more than $3 million for the venerable museum’s operations. “This is a benefit to honor the artists who have made, make and will make MOCA.”
MOCA’s recently minted director Klaus Biesenbach, now seven months into a tenure that has been met with much early admiration, put a finer point on it.”We’re standing on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “A chosen family of artists, so this is a little bit like a wedding, a little bit like a birthday. This is only friends and family tonight, and I think that’s very, very important. We’re all family, it’s just a very large family — and that’s something that’s very wonderful.”
Indeed, each of the guests, culled from both the Hollywood and L.A. art scenes, were seated at “Table 1” — long, contiguous dining tables that snaked through the museum’s main space and made each attendee feel like they were at the center of the gala as they hobnobbed during the pre-dinner cocktails and main course. Keanu Reeves escorted visual artist Alexandra Grant as they mixed and mingled with rocker Billy Idol and actress-model China Chow in one corner, while Sharon Stone was squired inside by artist and eyewear designer Alex Israel. Ricky Martin and his artist husband, Jwan Yosef, were a study in contrast in stark white and black suits; Orlando Bloom exchanged pleasantries with Christoph Waltz before being joined for dinner by fiancee Katy Perry, whose luminous mint-green gown perfectly complemented Bloom’s pine-green ensemble.
James Marsden, who attended with his singer-songwriter girlfriend, Edei, said venturing into the environs of MOCA and its ilk was a source of inspiration for industry-centric types like himself. “I feel like I’m hanging up my hat and going and stepping into another world — of art, but in a completely different format,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve just started learning more about art in the last five years and become obsessed with Rochet and Rauschenberg and Rothko — all the ‘R’ guys, I guess. I go through these phases of obsession, and art has been my most recent over the past however many years. So it’s cool to come here and support the museum. Klaus has been a friend of mine for a while, so it’s nice to see him heading up the show.”
Among the additional guests from L.A.’s central industry were Marisa Tomei, Courtney Love, Scooter Braun and Yael Cohen, Sam and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Gus Van Sant, Roger Corman, Lesley Ann Warren and Steve Tisch. They were joined by a who’s-who of the L.A. art community, including Catherine Opie, Ed Ruscha, Betye Saar, Paige Powell, Karon Davis, Miranda July, Charles Gaines, Jordan Wolfson, Mark Bradford, Doug Aitken, Barbara Kruger, Gajin Fujita, Kenny Scharf, architect Frank Gehry, art collector Eugene Sadovoy and art patrons like Heather Podesta and Maurice Marciano.
Actress Lisa Edelstein, who’s married to artist Robert Russell, said the increasingly vital and influential art produced in Los Angeles created closer bonds between their two worlds. “Because I’ve been immersed in the contemporary art world in the last 10 years, I’ve gotten to know a lot of the artists and I’ve gotten to understand their process in a way that I hadn’t really before,” Edelstein told THR. “There’s so much political action that people take in contemporary art that’s really interesting. There’s a lot of movement toward being much more diverse in the world of contemporary art than ever before so that’s very exciting. It definitely relates to our current state and it’s a way of fighting back, it’s a way of having a point of view that directly impacts the world today and it’s my husband’s work.”
Idol said he appreciated breaking big in the ’80s during a cyclical collision of art, music and fashion when his interest in fine artists and styles was running high. “Initially in the punk days, I was very influenced by Russian Constructivism and things like that,” he said. “I really like those primary colors, and Shepard Fairey loves those, too. He’s done a lot of my album covers, just because I like a lot of those sort of Russian propaganda stuff, and the Kandinsky and some of that sort of stuff.”
Idol’s friend and collaborator Fairey said it was easy to underestimate what a potent force MOCA has been in L.A. through periods of highs and lows.”This is a really important institution for artists, as well as for every citizen to have access to,” said Fairey. “I’ve been in a few shows here, which has been really amazing for me when many of my heroes have been represented here. L.A. has a tremendous art scene at this point, but MOCA being downtown, it was an oasis in the desert for a while.… There’s a pioneering spirit with MOCA that I think it deserves credit for.”
One of the evening’s high points came when MOCA Board of Trustees president Carolyn Clark Powers revealed that she would be pledging $10 million to the museum in a bid to permit free general admission for all museum guests. Her announcement prompted Biesenbach to quip to Rufus Wainwright, who next took the stage to perform his song “The Art Teacher,” that perhaps he should instead sing his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
“I’ll do both,” said Wainwright, who was true to his word.
Singer-songwriter and punk icon Patti Smith and her longtime guitarist and collaborator Lenny Kaye performed several of her mainstays, including “In My Blakean Year,” “Wing” and a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — joined halfway through their set by Pretty Little Liars actor Keegan Allen on piano, an impromptu recruit after their scheduled pianist was a no-show — and before she closed the evening with a fiery rendition of “Because the Night,” she shared a memory of how important exposure was to her in her nascent days.
“Robert Mapplethorpe and I used to go to museums,” Smith offered. “We were 20 years old and we had very little money and never had enough money to go into museums together. We would take turns — I would go in the MOMA, he would wait for me outside, and then he’d go in the Whitney and I’d wait for him outside. And it would have meant so much to us to be able to just go into a museum for free and just study and absorb the work within. So good luck with this pursuit. And it’s such a beautiful thought.”