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A young girl stood in a large darkened room holding a video game controller and facing an enormous projected video game in which she played the character of a Chinese soldier from the 1930s who destroys monsters with Coca-Cola cans. The girl was Gabrielle, daughter of Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and his wife, Katherine Ross, and without ever having played the game before, she conquered it within minutes.
But this was no mere arcade video game but an iconic work of art by Chinese artist Feng Mengbo, titled Long March: Restart, and valued at $150,000. It’s a conceptual work that explores the uneasy introduction of modern capitalism into China. Gabrielle Govan “played” the video installation Saturday night, as the work was on display in the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA’s mid-Wilshire campus.
It was one of nine works presented this year by LACMA curators to museum donors during the weekend of events collectively known as the Collectors Committee fundraiser. The latest edition raised more than $4.1 million to acquire all nine of the artworks, as well as a large-scale immersive light installation by artist Helen Pashgian that’s currently on view at LACMA . It was acquired through a gift by singer-songwriter and LACMA trustee Carole Bayer Sager.
The annual Collectors Committee weekend is a dynamic sequence of events engaging supporters in the process of acquiring work for the LACMA collection. A series of dinners are presented by major museum donors Friday evening, and then patrons are invited to the museum Saturday for presentations by curators who make pitches for works of art they propose for acquisition. On Saturday evening, the donors and museum administrators and curators gather for a gala dinner and to vote on which works to buy for the museum with proceeds from a live auction during the dinner created by chef Joachim Splichal (Patina Group).
Two of the artworks presented to donors by museum curators were purchased before voting even began: Iranian artist Mitra Tabrizian’s large-scale photograph Tehran 2006, a gift of the Buddy Taub Foundation and its directors, Jill and Dennis A. Roach; and Antonio de Torres’ Virgin of Guadalupe, a gift of LACMA trustee Kelvin Davis. And Saturday evening, LACMA trustee Lynda Resnick and her husband, Stewart, owners of Fiji Water, purchased two more of the artworks: Nancy Grossman’s No Name (1968) and a ninth-century Japanese pair of guardian animals. The remaining five works proposed by museum curators were acquired with the $800,000 raised Saturday night by a live auction of donated items presided over by LACMA trustee Viveca Paulin-Ferrell (as well as a substantial gift from producer Steve Tisch).
The five works included a 2013 solid glass sculpture weighing 3,300 pounds by Roni Horn, Untitled (“The sensation of satisfaction at having outstared a baby.”) — the first of Horn pieces to enter LACMA’s collection and acquired for $950,000; Jean–Auguste Dominique Ingres’ beautiful and diminutive 1815 Odalisque, for $761,000; and a nine-foot-tall poster for the 1896 Scottish Musical Review by Charles Rennie Mackintosh valued at $280,000.
“This a very committed group,” marveled Esther Rosenfield, who with husband Rick, a creator of California Pizza Kitchen, selected the luminous Horn sculpture as their top pick for the evening.
The Friday-night dinner hosted by Sager and her husband, Bob Daly, chairman of AFI, brought together numerous figures from the art and entertainment industry, including producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Paramount’s Brad Grey and his wife, Cassandra, CAA’s Bryan Lourd and Terry Semel.
Though Sager is well known for her Academy and Grammy Award winning collaborations with Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond and Michael Jackson, she has taken up painting in recent years and was approached a few years ago by Michael Govan for the museum board.
“You have to support this kind of institution — especially in Los Angeles,” Bruckheimer told THR. When asked about how the film and television industry synergize with the art world, he responded: “It’s interesting — a director or a writer can get inspired by a piece of artwork. And it can create a story in his mind. Or a director can look at colors and lighting and try to re-create it. I remember when I was in Holland and I was looking at some Van Goghs in the museum and the light was so fantastic in them. So I told the cinematographer I was working with and I said, ‘I want you to take a look at this and copy this.’ “
Well-known chefs cooked at the private dinners, with this year’s team of toques including Melisse’s Josiah Citrin, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jose Andres and Carbone’s Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, while top-flight winemakers, including Ann Colgin and Joe Wender of Colgin Cellars and Spottswoode Estate’s Beth Novak Milliken, poured their vintages. Among the other dinner hosts were Jamie McCourt, Lyn and Norman Lear and Tisch.
Among the items auctioned Saturday night were a specially commissioned painting by Dave Muller; a James Turrell hologram (which the artist specified must eventually be given to LACMA; it went for $100,000); and a day trip by private plane to art mecca Marfa, Tex., with Govan (it went for $65,000 and during the auction, Terry Semel offered a second trip to Marfa aboard his own private plane). The final lot auctioned was a performance by Carole King before a dinner party of 40 guests with food to be provided by Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main. The auction highlight: it fetched $200,000.
Attending the LACMA weekend for the first time, British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien saw the events as yet another sign of the closer convergence of the art and film worlds. “In L.A. both worlds come together. I think it’s very exciting what some people in the art world have been able to do in the film world recently. My fellow British artist Steve McQueen comes to mind. Dennis Hopper’s work was extraordinary.”
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