L.A.’s Art Scene Gets Sexy

Jennifer Graylock/AP Images

Oscar Week openings will lure stars and the industry’s powerful collectors.

In the week leading up to the Oscars, when lavish parties are as common as movie pitches, some of this year’s most coveted invitations are being extended not by film studios but by L.A.’s museums and galleries. In fact, one could skip the industry shindigs altogether and still hang with some of Hollywood’s biggest players. There are so many marquee events happening that it can practically be called the art world’s own unofficial Oscar Week.

Such collectors as Brian Grazer, Steve Martin, CAA’s Beth Swofford and lawyer Alan Hergott are regulars on the scene. This year, add the likes of Natalie Portman (she’s expected at a Feb. 23 invitation-only preview of MOCA’s exhibition of clothes by Rodarte, who did her Black Swan tutus), along with Scarlett Johansson (who’s hosting a benefit auction the same night for the Art of Elysium) and, of course, art-world darling James Franco. Two days before the Oscars, the 127 Hours best actor nominee will host a private viewing of a new art/film collaboration with his Milk director, Gus Van Sant — not in a theater but at Larry Gagosian’s Beverly Hills gallery (gogosian.com).

It’s Gagosian, which agency co-chief/collector Bob Gersh calls “the most powerful gallery in the world,” that will be the highest-profile hub. In 1996, the New York-based dealer started exhibiting during Oscar Week, and his celeb-packed openings — followed by a private dinner at Mr. Chow — are now marked in pen on the industry’s social calendar. The artists Gagosian showcases in this prime slot don’t get any more blue-chip: Cindy Sherman, Damien Hirst and Andreas Gursky, whose photo spectacular last year inaugurated the gallery’s Richard Meier-designed expansion.

“I always see the art world and the movie world as a singular community,” says Gagosian regular Donna Karan, who co-hosts her own event Feb. 22: a gala for “Nomad Two Worlds,” an exhibit at Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station (nomadtwoworlds.com).

Living up to his ’80s nickname, Go-Go Gagosian is throwing three parties. “I think the Oscars are kind of like Christmas in L.A.,” he says by phone from Paris. “It’s the one time of the year L.A. really stands tall.”

The main event is a Feb. 24 private preview of new paintings by Ed Ruscha. The groundbreaking artist (“He was doing pop work before Andy Warhol,” Gagosian says) is in the collections of everyone from Michael Ovitz to Keanu Reeves, who commissioned a piece. In her recent film Somewhere, Sofia Coppola placed a classic Ruscha — a cloud background emblazoned with the slogan “Cold Beer Beautiful Girls” — in the Chateau Marmont suite of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff). It’s the first time in 12 years that Ruscha has exhibited in his hometown, and according to Gagosian director Candy Coleman, interest in the 10-piece series, titled “Psycho Spaghetti Westerns,” has been “tremendous.” Coleman won’t comment on prices, but one collector says the large-scale paintings — part landscape, part still-life — run close to a cool million.

On Feb. 25, Franco will co-host a luncheon at Gagosian’s modernist Holmby Hills home. It’s to celebrate an installation by Richard Prince at the house, which Gagosian bought last year as a West Coast residence for $15.5 million. (It was originally built for Gary Cooper.)

Meanwhile, Franco is due that night at Gagosian for the screening of his work with Van Sant. The piece is essentially the actor’s recut of the director’s 1999 film My Own Private Idaho. “It’s the movie that made me want to act,” says Franco, who drew on unused footage Van Sant screened for him during a 2008 visit to Portland, Ore. “I’m really proud of it,” he says of the nearly two-hour cut that will screen every two hours through April 9 at the gallery, alongside a series of watercolor portraits by Van Sant.

-- Stacey Wilson contributed to this report.

Black Swan Exhibitions

Darren Aronofsky’s work is characterized by its dark beauty. And for the sexy ballet thriller Black Swan, he not only engaged avant-garde fashion designers Rodarte to create the ballet costumes, but also brought in art curator Dominic Sidhu to sprinkle the sets with appropriately moody works by the likes of Matthew Barney and Richard Prince. Just in time for the Oscars, the best picture nominee is the star of two exhibitions that shine a spotlight on these collaborations.

“Black Swan,” at Regen Projects and curated by Sidhu, is a group exhibit that includes Barney, Prince and Glenn Ligon, showing works that reflect the film’s black, white and silver color scheme and extreme psychological states. (Opens Feb. 25, 633 N. Almont Drive)

“Rodarte: States of Matter,” at MOCA’s PDC campus, places tutus worn by Portman and Mila Kunis alongside three catwalk collections by Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy. “States of Matter” doesn’t officially open until March, but there’s a glittery Feb. 23 special preview followed by dinner at Mr. Chow. Aronofsky and Portman, who recommended the Mulleavys for the project, are expected to attend. Perhaps the designers are expanding into maternity wear? (Opens March 4, 8687 Melrose Ave.)

The Art of Elysium Auction

Young Hollywood’s favorite charity, the Art of Elysium, will hold its third annual “Pieces of Heaven” Oscar Week art auction in partnership with Vanity Fair on Feb. 23

Counting Kirsten Dunst and Eva Mendes among its supporters, the nonprofit runs creative workshops for disabled children. This year’s invitation-only event, hosted by regular volunteer Scarlet Johansson, marks the first time seven “experiential” lots will be auctioned live; the items include a studio visit with art giant Ed Moses and a portrait by Abdi Farah, winner of Bravo’s Work of Art

In the silent auction are pieces by established names (Helmut Newton, Helen Garber), amateur photographers Scott Caan and Elijah Wood and such rising stars as Alexandra Grant (who’s collected by the likes of MGM’s Roger Birnbaum) and Glenn Kaino, a senior vp at OWN. The Cosmopolitan Hotel will provide Vegas-chic decor, including a bar in the elevator — no doubt to keep things loose when the bidding starts.

Those without an invite can participate online through CharityBuzz.com.

Culver City’s Hot Opening

The area’s openings and block parties find everyone from Tobey Maguire and Neil Patrick Harris to Dean Valentine looking for new talent. The place to hit is A-list gallery Blum & Poe, which debuts a show by multimedia artist Sam Durant, whose work often incorporates a theme of protest. Opens Feb. 19., 2727 S. La Cienega Blvd.

Donna Karan’s Gala

Australian photographer Russell James, known for his Sports Illustrated work, did an about-face for his “Nomad Two Worlds” project, photographing nomadic people in his homeland and collaborating with indigenous artists. Karan co-hosts the opening gala Feb. 22. Opens Feb. 23, Bergamot Station, 2415 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica

SoHo House Adjacent

Maybe it’s the diversity of programming — old masters to contemporary — or simply the fabulous roof deck. Since opening in 2009, Prism gallery has lured the likes of Adrien Brody and Rachel Zoe as customers. Its new show spotlights folk-influenced painter Clare Rojas, who will perform as her musical alter ego, Peggy Honeywell. Opens Feb. 26, 8746 W. Sunset Blvd.