Owen and Luke Wilson, Ari Emanuel, Brian Grazer Fete MOCA and Ed Ruscha
Hollywood and L.A.'s art world danced and celebrated at the third annual gala, where Robin Thicke stepped in to perform in place of a sidelined Flo Rida.
“So crowded,” said art advisor Stefan Simchowitz as he wandered around in a leather bucket hat, snapping pictures of people dressed up for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles’ annual gala. The courtyard in front of the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA building teemed with museum supporters celebrating the third such gala in director Philippe Vergne’s reign, which has proven more and more successful as time goes by. This year’s event honored one of L.A. art’s favorite sons, Ed Ruscha, a master whose text-based paintings, artworks depicting the gas stations and city lights of Los Angeles and artist books are some of the most enduring pieces of the vital 1960s ad ’70s in Los Angeles.
Brian Grazer, flanked by two friends, immediately was seized by an event photographer seeking a party snap of the Imagine Entertainment exec. “That’s the most important thing we’ll do tonight,” said Grazer, ready for an evening of jubilation. Nicky Rothschild (nee Hilton) buzzed by in a tight dress that accentuated her baby bump. CAA agent Thao Nguyen was radiant at 8-and-a-half months pregnant. And Albert Brooks pushed through the crowd on his way into “Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA,” an impressive showing of works from the last decade of the millennium in MOCA’s vast permanent collection, selected by new chief curator Helen Molesworth. Brooks is the brother of Cliff Einstein, half of one of L.A. art’s most prominent power couples with his wife Mandy.
Guests already had been mingling for an hour in the congested cocktail area when THR spotted a flustered Owen Wilson enter with his brother Luke. “I had such a hard time finding this place,” said Wilson, a longtime collector of Ruscha’s work. “I put it into my GPS, but the address they gave us doesn’t take you to entrance.” In the mood of the evening, this reporter suggested that it might’ve been a conceptual artwork on MOCA’s part to confuse the gala attendees. “Yeah,” Wilson said with a laugh. “Some Yoko Ono piece about tedium.”
Inside the gala tent, event producer Ben Bourgeois created a fabulous setting with sparkling walls that mimicked Ruscha’s City Lights series and a Ruscha text piece that read “FIBER OPTIC SUBURBS” projected onto the sides of the tent. “It’s just my favorite piece of his,” said Bourgeois, “and his studio said we could run with it.”
The speeches before the dinner were mercifully short and surprisingly sweet. MOCA board co-chairs Lily Tartikoff-Katz and Maurice Marciano took the stage to give their thanks to the sponsors and supporters, Marciano propped up by a cane made necessary by a serious car accident that left him unable to attend last year’s gala. He revealed that the evening’s scheduled musical act — Miami-based pop rapper Flo Rida — had to cancel due to an untimely case of appendicitis. “You are supposed to be there, and suddenly you can’t be there,” he quipped. “I know how that is.” He revealed that embattled pop star Robin Thicke and his band had generously agreed to fill in.
Finally, Vergne took to the stage to give Ruscha a fittingly poetic introduction. “Ed, you made a profound mark in art history. You showed us how to understand Los Angeles culture … You wrote an expanded poem that tells us who we are: 90 percent angel, 10 percent devil,” he said, referencing a 1982 piece by the artist.
A short documentary about Ruscha narrated by Owen Wilson (and featuring interviews with Ed Begley Jr., Larry Gagosian and Kim Gordon) played before Ruscha himself took the stage to deliver a splendid five-minute riff. “Pretty good bash tonight, huh? Pretty good bash,” he said. “I thought, not to long ago, I’d reached a high point when I was voted employee of the month at my own art studio, and now this? So I’m pretty grateful.”
Steak dinner by Wolfgang Puck was served to over 700 guests including such notable such as United States Venice Biennale representative Mark Bradford, Doug Aitken, John Baldessari, Llyn Foukes, Tacita Dean, Mark Grotjahn, Barbara Kruger, Lari Pittman and Catherine Opie; industry names including Ari Emanuel, Darren Star, Jeffrey Soros, former MOCA chair Maria Arena Bell, Michael and Eva Chow, David and Susan Gersh, Brian Grazer, Jamie McCourt and Steve Roth; and actors Elizabeth Olsen, Patricia Arquette, James Marsden, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Morris and Lisa Edelstein.
Thicke took the stage and delivered an ebullient set, closing out with his controversial hit “Blurred Lines.” Grotjahn and gallerist David Kordansky both gave the embattled singer a “10 out of 10.” Even dealer Larry Gagosian let his guard down, showing off some nifty moves on the dance floor with girlfriend Chrissie Erpf. Marciano scored effort points for dancing with his cane.
Gelila Puck gushed about the Ed Ruscha pieces that she and her husband have collected. “I gave him a whole room at Spago,” she said. “He is one of my all-time favorites.
There was still more, as guests filed out into the cocktail area (no dance floor), primed for Balthazar Getty’s hip hop DJ set. THR caught up with Marciano, who said his favorite Ruscha moment was visiting the artist’s studio for the first time in 1990, around the time he was finishing work on his critically acclaimed Shadow Series. “It will always stick with me,” said the Guess founder.
Leaving late in the evening, L.A. artist Shepard Fairey responded to a question about similarities in the use of powerful text in his work and Ruscha’s. “He’s a hero of mine,” Fairey said. “Not just for his use of text, but for his pop iconography and his propensity to distill complex ideas through text. His works are numerous, but deep and smart.”
A spokesperson for MOCA said the evening was a resounding success, pointing to the $3 million raised through ticket sales and an additional $2 million raised through the sales of an editioned plate by Jeff Koons, available only for the gala.
Owen Wilson, Danna Ruscha and Ed Ruscha