Hollywood Ending

Kate Sutton on art and Hollywood during Academy Awards week

Left: Melita Toscan Du Plantier and Charlotte Rampling at Dom Pérignon’s luncheon for Marina Abramović. (Photo: Alexis Dahan) Right: Producer Jeff Dupre, Marina Abramović, and filmmaker Matthew Akers. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

“IT’S DEFINITELY SURREAL,” photographer Todd Eberle admitted at Dom Pérignon’s luncheon for Marina Abramović last Friday at the Chateau Marmont. “All of a sudden you’re in a room with everyone you just saw on the screen. It’s a little like being at a zoo if they let all the animals out at once.” A Vanity Fair veteran, Eberle was coaching me through the finer points of navigating the magazine’s infamous Academy Awards Afterparty, which rang in its twentieth year on Sunday. Tabloids insist on calling the event “the most coveted invite in town,” but never tell the art world there’s a party they can’t get into.

That Hollywood and the art world are harboring mutual (if a little conflicted) crushes on each other is nothing new. But just as fashion parties swooped in on Art Basel Miami Beach, redefining a week that used to mean getting to wear flip-flops to a fair, so the sparklier denizens of the LA art world are now giving Hollywood parties a run for their money during Oscar week. Indeed, after Vanity Fair, the second most coveted invite was easily Thursday’s Gagosian dinner for Richard Prince at Mr. Chow’s, with Saturday’s over-the-top Mario Testino / PRISM party at the Saperstein mansion in Bel Air pulling in a close third.

Sometimes the most exclusive gatherings have no invite to covet. Wednesday afternoon, I paid a visit to Ooga Booga #2, an offshoot of Wendy Yao’s tiny Chinatown bookstore, now occupying the entrance to a hulkish Boyle Heights warehouse at 356 S. Mission Road. Laura Owens found the building, which she uses as a studio and exhibition space, and she casually lends out the sprawling backrooms for crits, screenings, and comedy nights. Gavin Brown was testing out some one-liners of his own on Yao when I walked in (none I would repeat here). But the real showstoppers were the twelve massive paintings Owens debuted, which, in that particular moment, had drawn quite the spontaneous crowd: a full fleet of Chows—Eva, Michael, and Maximillian—Jeffrey Deitch, and Eugenio López. The New York–based dealer gruffly dodged the question of whether he might make himself a permanent fixture in LA, declaring: “Sometimes you just have to do something once, and do it really well.”

Left: PC Valmorbida, dealer Alberto Mugrabi, Jessica Hart, and dealer Gavin Brown. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency) Right: Francesca von Habsburg and Doug Aitken. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Brown wasn’t the only one making impressions. It seems that after a forty-some year hiatus, restaurateur Michael Chow has returned to painting, in a big way. A very big way. As in, twenty-four-foot long “paintings,” collaged with detritus, found objects, and cracked eggs. “You really have to see these in person,” Deitch remarked, during our makeshift iPhone viewing. “It’s one of the most interesting things going on in LA right now.” “What, Michael’s painting?” collector Phil Aarons took a stab, as he rounded the corner into the gallery. “I know things,” he winked, answering Chow’s astounded expression. Brown loaded up with López and the Chows to get a private viewing, but Deitch and I were due at Francesca von Habsburg’s new Los Feliz digs (formerly part of Cecil B. DeMille’s estate), where the patroness-extraordinaire was hosting a private dinner in honor of her close friend (and houseguest) Abramović.

Von Habsburg met us at the door, where we were also greeted by a rowdy Brad Kahlhamer drawing. “Is that too much here?” she grinned mischievously at the ghosts of the artist’s ex-girlfriends past. “I personally think it’s kind of perfect.” Following her into the open kitchen, I grabbed a plate of Peruvian fish tacos and a seat on the couch with Natalie Portman, Benjamin Millepied, and Lykke Li on one side and John Waters on the other. Ever entertaining, Waters was dispensing advice to the young producer Ali Betil, whose film Keep the Lights On was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award alongside Abramović’s. Betil had to dash back to New York early Monday morning for his filmmaking course at Columbia. Waters shot him a look: “Oh you don’t need that. I’ll always remember, I came back from being honored at Cannes and my aunt said, ‘You know, you’re really going to wish you finished college...’ You won’t.” Betil looked less convinced.

Left: Pamela Anderson. Right: Tommy Lee Jones and Richard Prince. (Photos: Billy Farrell Agency)

Thursday night, the undisputed main event was at Gagosian, where Prince had trotted out a fresh inventory of Cowboys: over thirty paintings in sizes and palettes to match any interior. The sheer amount—three full rooms—drove home the commercial aspirations of the work, which would have been potent enough in smaller doses. “They’re cowboys. They’re readymade icons,” someone reasoned as a floral-frocked Pamela Anderson posed in front of her Marlboro man of choice. (She was the same yellow and orange as the painting.) More winningly, MoCA co-chair Maria Bell was genuinely shocked to find she was the only who thought to dress up as a cowgirl.

Afterward, the dinner at Mr. Chow’s presented a microcosm of the city’s gallery scene, with all its conflicts, scandals, and celebrity obsessions. Actor-cum-musician Jared Leto burrowed into conversation with China Chow and Terry Richardson while curator Paul Schimmel, Vera Wang and various Mugrabis and Schnabels angled towards the booths. Artists Piero Golia, Dan Colen, and Doug Aitken shuffled down the narrow aisles, sidestepping past Elton John, Adrian Brody, and Anthony Kiedis. Midway through, impudent little place cards were handed out to select scenesters, announcing the details to the afterparty (“Shhh!” the note obnoxiously began), but the real location—Chez Gagosian—was only whispered in the ears of the chosen few. I opted for a house party at Deitch’s mansion—Cary Grant’s former home—where filmmaker Hala Matar was celebrating her birthday with Buck Henry and a chamber orchestra (as one does).

Left: LA MoCA director Jeffrey Deitch and Michael Chow. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Jared Leto and Terry Richardson. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency)

“It’s still very new to have the art world so embraced here,” Deitch told me the next evening on the way to MoCA trustee Ari Emanuel’s house for the William Morris Endeavor’s pre-Oscar party. The affair was flawlessly coordinated, down to the outdoor check-in tent, which was festooned with paintings by “Art in the Streets” star Retna. Guests mingled over multiple levels, with the covered pool functioning as an ad hoc dancefloor. “We’re in the deep end,” an agent announced, and it took me a minute to realize he wasn’t speaking in metaphor. (I think.)

I had prepared to recognize fellow revelers and braced myself to play it cool; what I hadn’t prepared for was to actually know those fellow revelers. “Art People!” Mark Bradford yelped at the sight of us, leaping up from one of the sofas. We slowly began to assemble our own little ragtag ensemble—including artists Tereza and Kenny Scharf, Shepherd Fairey, and Retna—providing a comfortable vantage point for some prime people-watching. (How often are you in a room with Hugh Jackman, Amy Adams, Dustin Hoffman, and Harvey Weinstein? I mean, unless you’re one of those just enumerated.) At one point, Bradford was drawn into conversation with Conan O’Brian (a natural gravitation between the two tallest men in the room?) and I was pulled away to meet Tyra Banks. Balancing an impressive bouffant, Tyra expressed her deep love for art—more specifically, for Henry Taylor, whose show was set to open the next day at Blum & Poe. “I’m considering letting him paint my portrait, but she”—glancing at her agent—“is worried about me being left alone in the same room as Henry.” “Tyra is actually a photographer herself,” her agent hastily assured me, trying to redirect the conversation. Tyra confirmed this with a camera-ready smile and a pantomime of adjusting a lens.

Shuffling past scores of comedians—Tracey Ullman, Larry David, Russell Brand, Jonah Hill —I spotted Jack Black plotting with Deitch to participate in MoCA’s upcoming Urs Fischer show, which involves sculpting cats out of recyclable clay while the artist makes everyone lunch. (The idea was certainly no more surreal than watching John C. Reilly trade anecdotes with Captain Picard over by the champagne bar.) If this were a zoo, so far it was definitely of the petting variety. When Retna decoded one of his anagram paintings—“This is Show Business. Punching Below the Belt is Not Only Okay, It’s Rewarded.”—it took a minute to hit me that this was still the land responsible for Entourage.

Left: Artist Nick van Woert and OHWOW's Mills Moran. Right: Filmmaker Hala Matar and Buck Henry. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Granted, I may have been getting a charmed view, but I was certainly feeling the love at our next stop, the party for United Artists, where we were warmly greeted by Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The Spanish-style terrace looked like a really high-definition version of the Hulu homepage, with Alison Brie, Andrew Rannells, and Josh Radnor all vying for canapes and Harry Potter patrolling the backyard, but I was too busy making eyes at Paul Rudd to register much else. When that tactic didn’t quite pan out, I discussed the peril of combining kids and collecting with John Leguizamo. “It’s really just the constant threat of handprints, y’know?” I nodded.

As it was nearing midnight, I pulled a self-appointed Cinderella act and headed back to the Chateau to catch the tail end of the OHWOW dinner for Nick van Woert (by “tail end,” I mean, the entrees were being served). Once the troops had had their cake, we crossed Sunset to the Standard, where the Chez André party was rowdy and smoky and sweaty and all those other kinds of adjectives that stay on one’s skin longer than the personalized ashtray hand-stamp. Sometimes-celebs Kelis, Maxwell, and Donovan Leitch swaggered around sofas decorated with mid-riff baring extras, seemingly called in to make the party look cool. (Also, that adage about no one drinking in LA? Not true. Visiting New Yorkers drink a ton.)

Left: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen with Catherine Opie. Right: Henry Taylor and dealer Joel Mesler. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Saturday saw a full slate of openings, but with Hollywood Boulevard closed for the main event, I only made it to two: Catherine Opie at Regen—theatrically-staged photos of the tattooed, the mysteriously “bleeding,” and a topless Lawrence Weiner, punctuated by eerily-abstracted landscapes—and Henry Taylor. I arrived at Blum & Poe with five minutes to spare, which was just enough time to race through two galleries, only to be staggered by a third: a massive installation recreating a plantation with one long dining room table set on a pile of raked dirt, flanked by life-size portraits of slaves. Outside, attendees struggled for words, but I got the feeling everyone was just dancing around references to Django Unchained. “I think it’s a fair comparison,” a curator argued. “I mean, if you’ve seen the last scene.”

Speaking of scenes, Sunday night was here at last, and with it the Oscars. While Vanity Fair’s strict press embargo prevents me from divulging much about the über-glamorous goings-on of the viewing dinner, the afterparty, or the “secret” Solange concert bridging the two, I can say that, amid the starlets, agents, and directors; the has-beens, the girl/boyfriends and the literal train-wrecks (Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t the only one tripping); the Best Actors and Best Actresses brandishing Oscar statuettes and In-N-Out burgers in equal measure (the former apparently had to be won, but the latter were circulated on trays, along with Magnolia Bakery cupcakes lovingly iced with the names of nominees), I spotted a startling number of art worlders—Gagosian, Deitch, Michael Govan, Susan and David Gersh, Tobias Meyer, Benedikt Taschen, Vito Schnabel, Jean Pigozzi, Richardson, Eberle, Aitken, von Habsburg, and Kathryn Bigelow (she’s still one of us, right?).

All that glitters aside, the greatest honor of the evening was easily an introduction to Kenneth Anger, who seemed far sprightlier than his near-nonagenarian peer Don Rickles, installed on a nearby booth. However, all my composure (and Eberle’s valuable advice) flew out the window, and I found myself starstruck—truly, madly, deeply—when I turned around and realized my ultimate adolescent fantasy had inadvertently come true: I was in the same room with Pacey Witter.

Left: Christoph Waltz and Dom Pérignon's Richard Geoffroy at Dom Pérignon’s luncheon for Marina Abramović. (Photo: Alexis Dahan) Right: Solange. (Photo: Kate Sutton)