Dancing with the Stars

Linda Yablonsky at LACMA’s Art + Film gala

Left: Artists Barbara Kruger and Christopher Williams with curator Ann Goldstein. Right: Director Quentin Tarantino. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

WHAT HAPPENED TO ART in the twentieth century was film. It gave fine artists a new medium and storytellers a visual language. Today, artists like Steve McQueen make movies, but established moviemakers rarely make art. Not in Hollywood, anyway, where these days the art and film worlds each operate in a separate and unequal universe.

The seams were plainly showing last Saturday night, when the Los Angeles County Museum of Art held its fourth annual Art + Film Gala. Gucci sponsored the evening, which honored Barbara Kruger and Quentin Tarantino. Both marry words to pictures. As Tarantino would tell the six hundred–plus people who came to dinner, “It makes sense.”

Little else did. Designed to mine the extraordinary wealth accumulated by people in the movie business while forging a bond between the art and film communities, the event raised $3.85 million—a paltry amount, given the deep pockets in the room and the needs of a museum as encyclopedic and sprawling as LACMA. The event was cochaired by trustee and former fashion designer Eva Chow and Leonardo DiCaprio, and entertainment industry figures (Jennifer Lopez, Amy Adams, Jamie Foxx, Demi Moore) outnumbered art people to such a degree that some artists attending felt dissed. As one put it, “It’s like we’re the bottom-feeders here, and this is our turf.” Clearly, the museum will have to try harder to achieve integration. “There’s that actress,” said one artist as Dakota Johnson walked by. “The one in 50 Shades of Grey—what’s her name?”

Left: Collector Maurice Marciano, artist Sterling Ruby, and collector Steve Roth. Right: Jennifer Lopez with LACMA trustee Eva Chow.

It’s not as if there aren’t enough billionaires in the art world. The recent “Two x Two for AIDS and Art” in Dallas raised $7 million. And earlier this year, Guess Jeans cofounder Maurice Marciano, who attended the gala with fellow LA MoCA trustee Lilly Tartikoff Karatz, gave that institution $25 million.

LACMA has received such donations in the past, and it will be looking for more if it’s going to realize director Michael Govan’s ambitious plan to remake its campus with a futuristic $650 million redesign by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. (Five days later, the museum made public a major bequest of forty-seven nineteenth- and twentieth-century artworks [by Degas, Manet, Picasso, etc.] from former Univision CEO A. Jerrold Perenchio. The city’s board of supervisors also approved the new Zumthor building and put $125 million toward its construction.)

However, on Friday, following a pre-gala press conference with Govan and Chow, a tour of the museum’s current exhibitions showed the institution to be already thriving.

I saw an illuminating monographic show of the Jazz Age African-American painter Archibald Motley; a tightly focused Marsden Hartley exhibition; a gorgeous German Expressionist film show; a not-to-be missed display of samurai armor; and a superior selection of recently acquired abstract works by contemporary artists—the first collection show of this kind at the museum. It was fun to be there. There’s no reason it shouldn’t attract pots of money.

Left: LACMA director Michael Govan with LACMA curator Franklin Sirmans. Right: MoCA director Philippe Vergne with collectors Lilly Tartikoff Karatz and Bruce Karatz.

Yet everywhere I went that day and the next, I heard grumbling. At $5,000 a plate, and $100,000 for a table of twelve, the LACMA gala is the art world’s priciest benefit. “I’m too cheap to go,” said Stefan Simchowitz at Gagosian Beverly Hills on Saturday afternoon, when the gallery held an invitation-only preview of “Robert Rauschenberg: Works on Metal.” He added, “I’d rather eat at a Chinese restaurant and just give money to the museum.” Not that the notorious art-flipper is typical, but supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle was having a competing party, and the benefit concert that the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and Anthony Kiedis were hosting that night to benefit the Silverlake Conservatory of Music was drawing off people who felt excluded from the LACMA shindig. Certainly, the artists and collectors rushing Matthew Marks Gallery for the debut of two perfect metal sculptures by Charles Ray were no more interested in the gala than the young artists and writers who dressed with great imagination for a Friday night Halloween party at the Silver Lake home of partner dealers Alex Freedman and Robbie Fitzpatrick.

Still, because both Kruger and Tarantino are wild cards in Hollywood—commentators on, rather than regurgitators of, mainstream culture—I would have thought them a bigger draw for art types. LACMA took a risk by honoring them before a crowd more smitten by a Steven Spielberg. For all the glamour of the evening—and it had plenty—it lacked the megawattage of the Warren Beatty–Jack Nicholson–Tom Hanks–Jane Fonda–Diane Keaton bunch that showed up for the museum’s 2012 tribute to Stanley Kubrick and Ed Ruscha. This time out, even James Franco kept a low profile.

Actually, said LACMA curator Stephanie Barron, “We’re up to about 15 percent art world this year.” As opposed to about 2 percent in the past? Some of the artists present (Christopher Williams, Diana Thater) are friends of Kruger’s. Sam Durant and Pierre Huyghe have current or upcoming shows at LACMA. One artist (Thomas Demand) is married to Barron’s curatorial assistant (Nana Bahlmann). Two others (John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha) are past honorees. Wyatt Kahn escorted China Chow, who dressed in a Hershey Bar wrapper gown (by Jeremy Scott for Moschino)—the most amusing and adventurous outfit of the night.

Left: Collector Stefan Simchowitz. Right: Artist Charles Ray.

Strangely, no other directors were on hand to support Tarantino, who arrived solo. At dinner, he was seated beside a thickly bearded DiCaprio and opposite Kruger, whose seatmates were Govan and Olivia Harrison, the first wife of George Harrison and producer of the recent HBO documentary about him. Nearby was a young Qatari sheik, Anjelica Huston, and the evening’s power couple, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, who were vocal in their admiration for Kruger’s work. (A tribute film made for the occasion by Pippa Bianco reminded guests that when Kardashian posed nude for the cover of W magazine’s art issue a couple of years back, Kruger’s ironic white-on-red text ribbons veiled the model’s private parts.)

But it took a long time to get to that film and to the honorees. “Can’t I go home now, please?” groaned Mark Bradford during an unexplained and extended lull between the main course and the speeches that utterly stripped the event of momentum. Tacita Dean, currently in residence at the Getty, filled the gap by following Los Angeles Times arts reporter David Ng on “a tour of the celebrities in the room.” But it was Dean who introduced me to an actor who has starred in Tarantino films, Christoph Waltz. “Our children go to school together in Berlin,” she explained. “What do you think?” he asked, breaking from a conversation with LACMA curator Salvesen. “Is it better to be iconic or a curator?” (He didn’t think he’d ever be a curator, though it was charming to hear him consider the possibility.)

Finally, Govan introduced Kruger by praising her as “an artist of the present and the future.” Extolling her work and her thinking with the example of Untitled (Shafted), the Orwellian (George, not Orson) work adorning the elevator of the BCAM building at LACMA, he stepped aside for Bianco’s film, to which Kruger contributed a voice-over (and a hilarious takedown of the hundreds of times other people have ripped her off), but in which she did not appear. “You don’t have to be the face of your work,” she said in the kick-ass closing moment. In an age, and a town, obsessed with image branding, this came across as both refreshing and threatening.

Left: LACMA curator Stephanie Barron with artist Thomas Demand and LACMA curator Nana Bahlmann. Right: Artists Ana Privacki and Sam Durant.

But it was the living, breathing (and Gucci-clad) Kruger who made the evening worth the bother. After addressing her audience as “formidable, deeply powerful, gorgeous, and bling-festooned,” she spoke forcefully for the value of public education and public institutions like LACMA, pulling no punches on the importance of taking responsibility for the culture we create. The Harvey Weinsteins and Brad Greys in the room sat up straight. (“It’s a platform, you know,” she said afterward.) She also did something really classy. Breaking from her personal concerns, she surprised everyone with a clear and well-informed appreciation of Tarantino’s career. “That was the most unpretentious and gracious speech I’ve ever heard,” Waltz observed.

So when actor Tim Roth leaped to the stage to introduce the director, there was nothing for him to say but, “Thank you, Barbara Kruger!” On the other hand, he appeared so out of it that he had nothing to say anyway. “Quentin is deeply special,” was all he could manage, before finishing up with, “Quentin, I love you!” Well, a party is only as much fun as its embarrassments, I suppose, though one wished John Travolta or Uma Thurman had been there to do the honors.

Tarantino then took a page from Kruger’s playbook to advance his own film enthusiast’s agenda. After an emotional acknowledgment of how much more meaningful it was to be paid respects in his hometown than it has been in Paris and other places that have already done the same, he castigated Hollywood for not leading the world in film-as-art. “I’m proud to be a break in your wall!” he concluded. (LACMA does collect films by artists like Dean, McQueen, Huyghe, Agnès Varda, Allan Sekula, Martha Rosler, Christian Marclay, and Ryan Trecartin, but has nothing approaching a MoMA-type library.)

On came Boy George and Culture Club, reunited for an upcoming tour supporting a new album. Sporting facial hair and clad in a three-piece black suit and high hat, the singer ran through three rousing hits from the 1980s and, in a nod to Tarantino, finished up with a cover of Preacher Man. The performance got a few people on their feet and Anjelica Huston to chair dance, but most of this crowd (excluding a wildly enthusiastic China Chow) didn’t want to relive the old days.

Left: Artist Diana Thater. Right: Actor Christoph Waltz with artist Tacita Dean.

That pall hung over the afterparty at the palatial, and glacial, Roman-Spanish-modernist Holmby Hills home of Michael and Eva Chow. It had a hard time getting off the ground. Oh, Marilyn Manson inspired some bathroom action, but Kruger, Tarantino and Boy George declined to go, and DiCaprio and Foxx isolated in a corner. “Jamie, please save this party!” Eva Chow begged Foxx, who complied by taking a mic in the DJ booth and rapping over the determinedly ’80s music till people got the message and hit the dance floor.

Thankfully, next-level social brio took flight on Monday, when Piero Golia invited artist-LA to his “biggest evening at the Chalet,” actually the speakeasy’s closing-night party. (The refined two-room club, designed by architect Edwin Chan to fit in a storage space behind L.A.C.E. in Hollywood, will reappear next fall—with its private liquor cabinets—at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.) “Piero will be our artist-in-residence,” Strick remarked.

Over the last year, Golia has used the intimate space to exercise his relational art muscle. On Monday, with one of Huyghe’s deep-sea creature tanks installed in a room, and a piano contributed by Christopher Williams in the other, Golia kept pulling metaphorical rabbits out of his cap for a crowd that included Govan, as well as Simone Forti, dealer Mieke Marple, UCLA’s Russell Ferguson, and a clutch of very cool artists.

Left: China Chow and artist Wyatt Kahn. Right: Designer Jeremy Scott.

All conversation stopped when a dozen uniformed members of the UCLA marching band blasted their way through each room, followed shortly by the service of a roasted pig and the debut performance of a female, vocal septet called the LA River Choir. (All of their songs are about rivers.) “There’s always some kind of surprise here,” said curator Ann Goldstein. (Previous evenings have featured a chocolate fountain and the ritual whipping of a collector.)

“I like the moments between events,” Kruger had said in Bianco’s film. Personally, I like the events between moments. This was one of them.

Left: Artist Catherine Opie with LACMA photography curator Britt Salvesen. Right: Collector Eileen Harris Norton with artist Mark Bradford and dealer Mary Boone.

Left: Filmmaker Pippa Bianco with LACMA special projects director Erin Wright. Right: Boy George onstage with Culture Club.

Left: Collector Maria Bell with restaurateur and collector Michael Chow. Right: Collector Beth Rudin DeWoody and Nasher Sculpture Center director Jeremy Strick.

Left: Piero Golia's Chalet. Right: Artist Piero Golia.

Left: Edwin Chan and collector Richard Massey. Right: Artist Lizzie Fitch and dealer Shaun Caley Regen.

Left: Architect Kulapat Yantrasast and Mistake Room founder Cesar Garcia. Right: Artists Vinoodh Matadin and Inez Van Lamsweerde.

Left: Artists Nancy Rubins and Chris Burden. Right: Artist Alex Israel with Bernard Picasso.

Left: Gagosian Gallery curator Ealan Wingate with Rauschenberg Foundation executive director Christy MacLear. Right: Writer Lynne Tillman with artist Stephen Prina.

Left: Publisher Benedikt Taschen and Lauren Taschen. Right: LACMA curator Christine Y. Kim.

Left: Shoe designer Christian Louboutin with collector Dasha Zukhova. Right: LACMA curator Jarrett Gregory with artist Pierre Huyghe.