Love Hangover

Left: LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne and collector Maurice Marciano. (Photo: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com) Right: Diana Ross performs. (Photo: Jessica Kantor)

LAST FRIDAY NIGHT at 9:09 PM, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shivered through Los Angeles. At the Museum of Contemporary Art, the crowd watched videos sway, stuffed animals tremble, and Kandors clink. A small opening for friends and supporters was inaugurating the final stop of the late Mike Kelley’s retrospective, the day before the museum’s slightly less intimate annual gala. Besides a few deep breaths and nudges, everyone loved the show, a homecoming for the lost artist at the almost-lost museum, nearly sunk by financial profligacy. Art historian and Kelley catalogue contributor George Baker posted to Facebook afterward: “Mike Kelley and earthquake. I thought of jumping underneath the Educational Complex.”

Though an aftershock roiled us the following afternoon, none of the starlets perched precariously on high heels tumbled on the red carpet on their way into the MoCA gala. On the other side of a thicket of photographers stood artists Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell, drinking champagne. “We’ve not really been here in years,” said Dowell. Pittman asked who the next chief curator would be, hoping in the same breath for Helen Molesworth; collector John Morace suggested Peter Eleey or Juan Gaitán. Somebody told a story of introducing Orlando Bloom to MoCA’s weeks-old new director Philippe Vergne. “I feel like we’ve met before. What’s your last name?” asked Vergne.


“No…I guess we haven’t met before.”

Welcome to Los Angeles.

Left: Artist David LaChapelle and collector Daphne Guinness. Right: Dita Von Teese. (Photos: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com)

A cluster of artists peered with amusement at clusters of celebrities; gazelle-like fashion icons grazed on toad-in-the-holes amid snowdrifts of white hair and tuxedos. Dita von Teese, in something lavender, slithered past a zebra-striped Joy Venturini Bianchi; they made the heiresses feel plain in their funereal gowns. “Isn’t that a celebrity?” asked artist Nicole Miller. No one remembers his name, though somebody offers “Chris Sea-something,” which was enough to jog Miller’s memory: Ryan Seacrest.

An official-sounding voice called us in for dinner. One can never really be astonished enough at the LA legerdemain of a parking lot transformed into a banquet hall. Waiters whirled though with palettes of vegetables: a purple carrot sliced long-ways in the vicinity of a chop of butter lettuce, all composed just so by a minion of Wolfgang Puck. David LaChapelle talked federal drug policy while his date Daphne Guinness took notes in a ghostly script with her fountain pen. The chatter mostly hushed as new board cochair Lilly Tartikoff Karatz rose to the stage. “Eli, we love you forever,” she announced at some point in her speech, which made a few people in the crowd flinch and look around nervously for the billionaire. The other cochair followed, Guess founder Maurice Marciano, his voice billowing with joy through the tent as if he were telling you the best joke you’ve never heard in your life. He emitted a Zorba-like energy; if it weren’t for the tux, you’d imagine him as a carefree beach-drifter. He was already likable, but the crowd liked him even more when he dropped another $1.2 million onto the museum. Vergne leapt on the stage: “Maurice, I’ve been waiting for you my whole life.”

Left: Katy Perry. (Photo: Billy Farrell/BFAnyc.com) Right: Artists Nancy Rubins and Chris Burden. (Photo: Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com)

After all the speechifying, the white curtain crept back and there she was, radiant black hair and shimmering in red, Diana Ross. The legendary songstress medleyed through some of her greatest hits, from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” to “Baby Love” with a trio of back-up singers and piped-in music. Tables emptied to the makeshift dance floor as Miss Ross’s voice reached its beautiful high pitch during a cover of “I Will Survive.”

After her final bow, I went outside to join the smokers. MoCA curator Bennett Simpson snapped a shot of Jim Shaw and Marnie Weber with John Welchman and Anita Pace. Pace began to talk about her performance the following day at the museum. “It’s a piece we, Mike and me, did together…” she paused. “I keep saying we and he’s gone.” A few steps away I ran into artists John Seal and Samara Golden; it’s their first gala. The crowd around was breaking up, some to an afterparty at Eugenio Lopez’s, others to parts unknown. “I was so moved by Diana,” said Golden looking up from beneath her wide-brimmed hat. “I just stood by the stage and I cried.”