Kim Kardashian part of LACMA makeover

Museum gets back in gala game with Saturday's A-list event

A couple of decades ago, the biggest names at a LACMA gala might have been the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, octogenarian members of Reagan's kitchen cabinet, Armand Hammer and, in a lucky year, Jimmy Stewart. It soon exited the gala business altogether.

"It was tired," said a former council member regarding the museum's place in the vortex where culture meets money, social airs and hors d'oeuvres.

The L.A. art world's social heat first began to radiate from downtown's new Museum of Contemporary Art and its glittery bashes; last year's 30th anniversary gala had Lady Gaga doing a Francesco Vezzoli performance piece with 12 dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet. As an art piece, it was baffling, but at least it was fun.

On Saturday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will show it intends to be a player in this game when it unveils the new Lynda and Stewart Resnick exhibition pavilion with a gala at which top tables go for $100,000. The guest list includes Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Jamie Foxx, board member David Geffen, Joel Silver, Mark Burnett, Kathryn Bigelow, Marisa Tomei, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Diane Keaton, Terry Semel and Kim Kardashian.

Yes, Kim Kardashian. And while the Kardashian family name doesn't exactly resonate in the art world, this is the kind of off-the-wall, pop culture personality MOCA would invite in a heartbeat. One only can pray that her conversation with the new pavilion's architect, Renzo Piano, makes it onto her reality show.

Along with the high church/low church Hollywood names, LACMA has PMK/BNC doing the event's publicity and longtime movie-premiere impresario Ben Bourgeoisie handling nuts and bolts. Back in the day, PR for a gala was handled solely by the museum's internal publicity department, which is more art world-centric, and catering was done by what seemed like county employees -- not usually a first choice in dining.

Add in a string quartet that once played (more county employees, but from the L.A. Philharmonic) and compare it to Saturday's masked ball with Christina Aguilera (who's gone more Hollywood herself with the upcoming "Burlesque" pic) belting it out in a 1,000-person, Venetian-style tent set in the former May Company's parking lot, and there are more signs of the changes that began in 2008 with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes attending the opening of LACMA's Broad Contemporary Art Museum.

Professional estimates on what a soiree like this might cost ranged from $800,000-$1.1 million.

"One of the reasons LACMA has become more relevant is they now have the goods," gala host committee member Wendy Goldberg said. "They have the art, the location, the Hollywood connections and the right kind of event to draw people to a big opening."

Another key part of the goods is LACMA CEO and curator Michael Govan, who came to the museum from New York in 2006. He has worked hard at connecting with Hollywood and also has strong chops with opening new museum buildings. While director of the Dia Center for the Arts in New York, it launched a Dia in Beacon, N.Y., made from a retooled Nabisco factory, so he has experience with big premieres.

(And Piano must have eyeballed that building's skylights just before he flooded the Resnick Pavilion with ample, ethereal natural light).

"I always remind people that it was Vincent Price who was the first person to try and establish a general museum in Los Angeles," said Govan of the Hollywood connection. But then, as they say, other things happened -- among them the Pasadena/Beverly Hills cultural divide.

"This museum was separated from the entertainment industry," Govan said. "Now it's being embraced by it."

The next step in possible art-gala one-upmanship comes from the MOCA side, where new director Jeffrey Deitch, a former superstar New York gallerist, will need to prove himself with his own blowout in November.

This week the museum sent out invites to its annual "The Artist's Museum Happening" gala, which video artist Doug Aitken envisions as "a cultural ambush."

Ambushes, dueling galas, Kim Kardashian -- it should be an enlivened social season.