Katy Perry, Steve Martin and Rachel Maddow: Inside the Hammer Museum's Record $2 Million Gala

Katy Perry Hammer Gala - P 2012
Andreas Branch/Patrick McMullan

Katy Perry Hammer Gala - P 2012

The art party of the month: To the sounds of "Firework" and a Bonnie Raitt cover, artists Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger were feted at the museum's annual Gala in the Garden.

While it no longer qualifies as a below-the-radar event, the Hammer Museum's annual Gala in the Garden benefit still feels a bit like a well-kept secret. Perhaps it's the fact that it takes place in an intimate courtyard, where celebrities and entertainment-industry heavyhitters gather and dine. Also chalk it up to the fact that guests -- a not-too-overwhelming 650 this year -- are entertained by some of the most up-close performances by chart-topping singers that ever happen in Los Angeles.

At the Hammer's 10th annual gala, Katy Perry, in a glittery ivoy Eli Saab gown, performed a four-set number, complete with glittery crystal microphone, on a stage set just a dinner-roll's throw away from tables that included the likes of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Hung actor Thomas Jane (whose cigar caused a few guests to grumbled about the smell), AFI chairman Bob Daly and his wife, songwriter Carol Bayer Sager, and music producer David Foster (who was snapping shots of the singer with his Blackberry.)

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The Hammer Museum, tucked away in Westwood, is known for its unique mix of cutting-edge contemporary exhibits (it's an acclaimed incubator of up-and-coming artistic talent) and prized permanent-collection masterpieces by the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne and John Singer Sargent.

This year, the gala honored photographer and UCLA faculty member Barbara Kruger, who was introduced by Rachel Maddow. (The MSNBC host's art-world connection starts right at home; her partner is photographer Susan Mikula.) Maddow, in a dark jacket, jeans and brightly patterned white tennis shoes, ran down some of the famous textual elements in Kruger's art -- which question and often simply hold a mirror to American cultural values -- in introducing her: "You want it, you buy it, you forget it. You are not yourself. We are all objects of your suave entrapment. Face it, this luxurious garment won't make you rich and beautiful. Super rich. Ultra gorgeous. Extra skinny. Forever young. Look for the moment when pride becomes contempt. Who is free to choose? Who is beyond the law? Who is healed? Who is housed? Who speaks? Who is silenced? Who salutes longest? Who prays loudest? Who dies first? Who laughs last? When I hear the word 'culture,' I take out my checkbook."

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That last comment got some giggles from the collector-heavy crowd, which also included producer Darren Star, entertainment attorneys Jake Bloom and Alan Hergott, Jeanne Tripplehorn, the Gersh Agency’s Bob Gersh, John C. Reilly, DreamWorks Animation's Bill Damaschke and entertainment business manager John McIlwee, Lionsgate’s Jon Feltheimer, Rosanna Arquette, Julie Bowen, Tracee Ellis Ross, LACMA director Michael Govan, Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy (who dressed Hammer director Annie Philbin in a stunning copper dress), new parents Tom Ford and his partner Richard Buckley and CAA's Richard Lovett.

Later in the evening, Steve Martin introduced second honoree Cindy Sherman, the photographer known for her famed chameleon-like photos of herself inspired by movie archetypes. Said Martin: "If I were Cindy Sherman, I know I would be a much better actor. The audience would grasp my character from a single frame rather than a series of expository scenes. They would understand entire plots from a sliver of film and extract endings that would no doubt lead to a murder or a twisted double cross." Sherman accepted the honor with a very brief list of thank-yous and bounded off the stage. (At his table, Daly quipped: "My type of honoree. Celebrate her next year.")

Armie Hammer, whose great-grandfather Armand Hammer founded the museum, was a gala co-chair. "I'm Armie Hammer. I'm here mostly because of my birth," he said in kicking off Saturday night's event, which raised a record $2 million for the museum.

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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa later took the stage to spotlight a new city arts campaign -- spearheaded by Los Angeles Fund for Education founder Megan Chernin -- that will see buses and billboards covered with slogans by Kruger promoting arts education. Look for them all over the city next month.

Guests stayed almost until midnight to hear Perry's set. "I'm kind of an art aficionado, but I'm more of a nail-art aficionado," Perry said on stage. "I hope you will adopt me into your tribe."

The singer, who’d worn a colorful Tadashi Shoji gown earlier in the evening, sang her hits "Wide Awake," "Teenage Dream" and "Firework." Where she really let loose was on a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s "I Can’t Make You Love Me." The full-throated chops and range she displayed on the song left the likes of Foster and famed record exec Jerry Moss smiling.

Currently on view at the Hammer is a retrospective of artworks, mostly in paper, by Indian-born artist Zarina, the show Graphic Design (which includes a popular interactive display in which visitors can vote for their favorite before-and-after corporate logos) and A Strange Magic: Gustave Moreau's Salome. The engrossing exhibit shows the museum's Salome Dancing Before Herod, by Moreau, accompanied by drawings, photos, studies and paintings lent from the artist’s library in Paris, that illustrate the extensive planning that went into the creation of this one work of art.