Short Speeches, Gucci Designs Rule at LACMA's Art + Film Gala Honoring Robert Irwin and Kathryn Bigelow

Leonardo DiCaprio and Eva Chow co-chair the sixth annual A-list event at LACMA where Bigelow took to the stage and praised her mentor, artist Lawrence Weiner: “He challenges you constantly: ‘What is the purpose of art? What is the meaning of art?’"
(Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for LACMA)
From left: LACMA's Michael Govan; Gucci's Marco Bizzarri and Alessandro Michele; co-chair Eva Chow (wearing Gucci); honoree Kathryn Bigelow (wearing Gucci); honoree Robert Irwin and Adele Irwin

LACMA’s Michael Govan presented the first of two tributes on Saturday night at the museum’s sixth annual Art + Film Gala, honoring his friend and mentor Robert Irwin. In doing so, Govan, LACMA’s CEO and Wallis Annenberg director, praised Irwin as a man whose “biography has convinced more young people to become artists than the Velvet Underground has created rockers.”

Govan continued: “His whole life and career is a teaching moment.”

And even though Irwin was nursing a broken back, his teaching skills were still in top shape as the 88-year-old slowly made his way to center stage (wearing a sleek leather jacket by Gucci, back again this year as presenting sponsor) to deliver another lesson — or was it a master class? — in how to give a short and sweet acceptance speech. Rewind that: Not all of his words could be likened to sugar.

Irwin, a pioneer of the “Light and Space” movement of the 1960s who is known for breaking the frame and creating site-specific works that challenge concepts of perception, joked that because of the building that went up on the LACMA campus in 1986, he didn’t come back for 20 years. “I said, ‘This is too damn ugly to even be here.'"

But he had his own perceptions of the museum challenged when Govan joined the fold. “Michael is the best, he’s the absolute best,” Irwin gushed, adding that the man is a “great gift” to California and Los Angeles. 

And that’s when the words started to run out, but not his gratitude.

“At this moment, having talked everywhere and anywhere at the drop of a hat, I have nothing to say other than thank you,” Irwin concluded and exited the stage in front of 550 guests who had gathered in the custom pavilion behind the museum, which raised more than $3.6 million at the gala.

The night’s other honoree, Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, must’ve gotten a sneak peek at Irwin’s lesson plan, because she, too, kept her words to a minimum. Her presenter, longtime friend and mentor Lawrence Weiner, kept his presence at bay, using only his voice in a well-written and well-presented video tribute that complimented Bigelow’s artistic integrity. Weiner said that the reason so many artists find her work — which includes such films as The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and an upcoming pic about the 1967 Detroit riots — so vital is that she allows people to look at things they might not have questioned before by providing enough information for them to make their own decisions.

Bigelow, seated in between gala co-chair Leonardo DiCaprio and producer Megan Ellison, then took to the podium to say thank you to LACMA and Weiner, whom she met upon moving to New York in 1971. “He challenges you constantly: ‘What is the purpose of art? What is the meaning of art?’” she explained. “You are struggling with all of these big issues and that challenge never leaves you. It stays with you and forms you and anneals you. I carry those conversations with me today. I suppose I am thanking him at the same time as I am thanking you.” 

And, at the same time, she was thanking DiCaprio. 

“Leonardo sent me on this path of philanthropy and awareness,” Bigelow noted, referring to the virtual reality short film The Protectors about the dangers of the ivory trade. Clips of that film, which she co-created with Imraan Ismail for National Geographic, were on view during the cocktail hour before the gala dinner (menu handled by Patina’s Joachim Splichal, complemented by Laurent-Perrier champagne and Fiji water), and multiple guests including Warner Bros.’ Sue Kroll were spotted trying on the VR headsets to check out the short. “There can be no change without awareness. Challenge yourself and ask why you are doing what you are doing,” said Bigelow.

DiCaprio’s gala co-chair, Eva Chow, didn’t seem challenged by The Hollywood Reporter when asked to sum up the night’s two honorees. “Robert Irwin has always been my hero,” said Chow, wearing a pink embellished Gucci gown by creative director Alessandro Michele. “He has influenced so many artists. And people say Kathryn is a strong female director, but I say she’s a strong director, period. She’s great.” (Bigelow, who is a trained painter, also is the first woman to be honored at the event since its inception.)

Less great, Chow said, are the times we are living in at the moment, which make coming together at LACMA’s Art + Film Gala that much more meaningful. 

“This year has been a very strange year all over the world,” she said from the podium. “An evening like this makes me feel hopeful and optimistic and happy. There are so many creative people in every field — art, film, fashion and music. I’d like to thank Alessandro for [bringing] amazing, fresh and new energy to this fashion world.” 

The fashions were indeed fresh. A few of the stars wearing Gucci included Gwyneth Paltrow (on hand to also introduce the gala’s musical entertainment, Børns), Brie Larson, Zoe Saldana, Demi Moore, Salma Hayek, Courtney Love, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Alessandra Ambrosio, Hari Neff and Gucci president and CEO Marco Bizzarri.

Art + Film guests also included Bob Iger and Willow Bay; CAA's Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane; Jimmy Iovine and Liberty Ross; Bradley Cooper; Sylvester Stallone and wife Jennifer; David O. Russell; Tobey Maguire; Laura Dern; Mary-Kate, Ashley and Elizabeth Olsen; Dan and Dean Caten; Asia Chow; James Corden and wife Julia Carey; Byung Hun Lee; Jeff and Justine Koons; Gia Coppola; Kate Upton; the Film Academy’s Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Dawn Hudson; A$AP Rocky; Barbara Davis; Catherine Opie; Julie Burleigh; Kelly Lynch; Jennifer Tilly; and Jaden Smith, among others.