Friends and Romans

Beverly Hills

Left: Larry Gagosian with Francesco Vezzoli. Right: Farrah Fawcett greets Gore Vidal. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

“Who but Gore?” Francesco Vezzoli asked UCLA Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin last Saturday night. The artist was explaining his choice of subject for “The Gore Vidal Trilogy,” his first exhibition at Larry Gagosian’s multilevel Beverly Hills outpost. “Gore is the intellectual and cultural bridge between Italy and America,” Vezzoli said. “Who else—what gay man—could represent the link between cinema, literature, history—everything I care about? Only Gore. He is the master.”

The crowd around us parted like the Red Sea as “the master” himself passed by in a wheelchair necessitated by a chronic knee problem, looking dapper at eighty in a gray pinstripe suit and dimpled smile. He was attended by a clutch of paparazzi and a documentary film crew that included Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), Vidal’s nephew (family resemblance: strong). “Gore has appeared in so many documentaries about other people,” Steers said. “We thought it was time he had his own.”

Left: Yvonne Force Villareal with Farrah Fawcett. Right: Milla Jovovich and Francesco Vezzoli. (Photo: Patrick McMullan)

Indeed, the entire evening was dedicated to Vidal, who drew a mix of guests that everyone present seemed to think was strange. “This is just so weird,” said Philbin, as the writer was wheeled into conversation with former Gucci designer Tom Ford. Richard Buckley, Ford’s silver-haired companion, was watching. “Is it me or is this a strange evening?” he asked. “I’m enjoying myself. But what is it?” Was he confused by the billboard-size movie poster picturing Vezzoli as the doomed Sebastian in an imaginary sequel to Suddenly, Last Summer? (Vidal cowrote the screenplay for the original with Tennessee Williams.) Or by the screen-printed canvases of that film’s cast and amours du jour (Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher, Montgomery Clift), each embroidered with mawkish metallic tears and set in a Hollywood Walk-of-Fame star-shaped frame? Or by the trannies primping in a behind-the-scene dressing room visible only through a staircase peephole (Vezzoli’s living homage to Myra Breckinridge, Vidal’s sex-change satire)? Peter Bogdanovich was hanging out beneath the big poster, near Elizabeth Taylor’s cleavage. “Great evening,” he enthused, in a sepulchral Boris Karloff tone.

Left: Dennis Hopper. Right: Ed Ruscha and Pat York. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Meanwhile, Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer was leading a conversation on art great and small—with collectors Alan Hergott (Hollywood power lawyer) and Beth Swofford (Hollywood power agent)—too intense to notice Yvonne Force sweep in with her “date” for the evening, Farrah Fawcett, both wearing chocolate brown dresses and dark shades. Fawcett, I was reminded, had her first featured role in the movie of Myra Breckinridge. Now I know how David Letterman must have felt when she last appeared on his show: I listened to her talk for ten minutes but for some reason the only words I could make out were, “What artist turns down $100 million?” (Evidently, she was speaking of Gregory “Ashes and Snow” Colbert.)

Vezzoli was trapped in a photo-op with Milla Jovovich and a voluptuous Courtney Love, two of the personalities in his Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, which is ensconced in its own theater on the gallery’s second floor, but also currently playing at the Whitney Biennial. It was actually a bit weird watching it with the stars in the room, a moment when art and Hollywood truly mingled.

Left: Francesco Vezzoli with director Peter Bogdanovich. Right: Stephen Eckelberry and Karen Black.

Most strange was how few artists were present: Besides Vezzoli, I noted only Ed Ruscha, Ari Marcopoulos, and Monica Bonvicini. But you couldn’t walk two steps without bumping into some celebrity. Karen Black (the real Karen Black, not the Kembra Pfahler version) even offered to read my palm. “You think too much and it is getting in your way,” she told me with a meaningful look, and introduced me to her fedora-capped husband, Steve Eckelberry. Oddly enough, Michael York, one of the stars of Fedora, a 1978 Billy Wilder movie that is a Vezzoli favorite, was there too. “Bizarre, isn’t it?” said T: The New York Times Style Magazine editor Stefano Tonchi.

Indeed, this was the first art opening I have ever attended that felt like a bar mitzvah. Perhaps it was the Rodeo Ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the setting for the dinner, where the crowd really swelled: blog queen Arianna Huffington, collectors Eli Broad and Dean Valentine, producer Max Palevsky, restauranteur Michael Chow, Wendy Stark, and Paris Hilton, who gatecrashed. She sidled up to Vidal’s table with her boyfriend, Stavros Niarchos, and introduced herself. “Paris Hilton?” he said. “That is the silliest name I have ever heard.”

Left: Impresario Malcolm McLaren. Right: Billy Corgan with David LaChapelle. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Some have criticized Vezzoli as an opportunist whose only talent is for drawing attention. Then why did so many of us show up? Herd instinct? Glamour quotient? Need for love? I’ll leave that to art history, but the attention part is for sure. On reflection, however, it seemed that Vezzoli had orchestrated a performance as mad as Caligula, but with a court in fancier dress.

Left: Director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) and Jennifer Steers. Right: Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin and publicist Cynthia Wornham.

Left: Actor and collector David Alan Grier with the Studio Museum's Christine Kim. Right: New LACMA Director Michael Govan with wife Katharine Ross.

Left: Tom Ford. Right: Traci Lords. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Left: Larry Gagosian with Broad Foundation founder Eli Broad. (Photo: Patrick McMullan). Right: Arianna Huffington.

Left: Francesco Vezzoli. Right: Ed Ruscha with Mrs. and Mr. Chow. (Photos: Patrick McMullan)

Left: Performance of A Casting Call for the New “Myra Breckinridge.” Right: Gore Vidal.

Gagosian LA gallery director Sarah Watson. Right: West Coast editor of W magazine Kevin West with Christie Girlington.

Left: Pat York and actor Michael York. Right: Photographer Todd Eberle, Francesco Vezzoli, and T magazine editor Stefano Tonchi.

Linda Yablonsky