Broad and Butter

Los Angeles

LVMH's Katherine Ross, collectors Eli and Edythe Broad, architect Renzo Piano, LACMA director Michael Govan, and artist Jeff Koons. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

Some compared it to the Grammys and others to the Oscars, but when Barbara Kruger called it “anthropology,” she nailed it. The black-tie gala introducing the Renzo Piano–designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum to Los Angeles society last Saturday night, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, was interspecies communication at its best, very like The Day of the Locust. Except that this event was strictly postfiction, with competing narratives involving movie stars, pop stars, studio heads, philanthropists, politicians, museum directors—and a smattering of people who make art, most of them male. (Eighty-seven percent male, according to an e-mail from the Guerrilla Girls, whom BCAM brought out of hibernation.)

“I think they could have invited a few more artists,” said painter Lari Pittman, during cocktails in the breezeway dubbed the BP Grand Entrance, after the oil company that paid twenty-five million dollars for it. Cindy Sherman, Bill Viola, Philip Taaffe, John Baldessari, David Salle, and Jack Pierson did seem lost in the crowd of twelve hundred, as they huddled together protectively, bolstered now and then by curators like Ann Goldstein and Ari Wiseman (MoCA LA), Donna de Salvo (the Whitney), Kerry Brougher (the Hirshhorn) and Kathy Halbreich (MoMA); dealers Marian Goodman, Thaddaeus Ropac, Paula Cooper, and Mary Boone; celebrity collectors Michael York, Dennis Hopper, and Steve Martin; and the occasional celebrity artist (music legend Tony Bennett).

Left: MoCA chief curator Paul Schimmel with artist Barbara Kruger. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Christina Aguilera. (Photo: Brian Lindensmith for Patrick McMullan)

However, the gala’s purpose was not to make (or look at) art or artists. It was to make (and look at) money: over $5 million, the amount it raised for the museum, minus the $1.5 million it cost. Organized with military precision by LACMA’s crack development and marketing team alongside J. Ben Bourgeois Productions, an event planner that seems to specialize in airplane hangar–size tents (“That’s what cost the million,” chirped gala chairperson Jane Nathanson), the arriving guests thought they had shelled out big bucks (tables cost $25,000 to $100,000) to witness the unveiling of the $56 million BCAM. And they did. But they also had to endure the canonization of Eli Broad.

The party began on a red carpet rolled onto the Wilshire Boulevard sidewalk, where celebrities could stop for photo ops with paparazzi, before a line of taiko drummers and valet-parking attendants dressed in black BCAM BORN 02-09-08 T-shirts bearing the image of Jeff Koons’s cracked red egg that LACMA adopted for its BCAM opening. Performers on stilts, costumed as dragons, nudged guests through Chris Burden’s outdoor allées of vintage LA lampposts (a permanent installation called Urban Light) and into the pavilion, where tray-carrying “waiters” carved from blocks of ice proffered flutes of champagne.

Throughout the cocktail hour, the building that everyone had come to see remained hidden from view by fabric curtain walls. That mystified many patrons, who wondered what they were supposed to talk about during dinner, if not the art. Some strolled into the older Ahmanson Building, where Tony Smith’s 1967 sculpture Smoke, a 2005 black-painted aluminum edition of which was being exhibited for the first time, looked for all the world like a honeycombed version of a giant Louise Bourgeois spider. “Who would give a museum five million dollars and be anonymous about it?” asked a perplexed Steve Martin, pausing before the Ahmanson donor wall.

Left: Artist John Baldessari. Right: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Just before dinner, personally catered by Spago’s Wolfgang Puck, so many boldfaces began pouring into the enormous tent it seemed as if a bus had unloaded them all at once: Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Tom Ford and Rita Wilson (Mrs. Tom Hanks), Dustin Hoffman and his wife, Lisa, Angelica Huston and Robert Graham, Nicole Richie and Christina Aguilera. Having just been regaled with hunky producer Lawrence Bender's prescient discovery of marketable Chinese art during the filming of Kill Bill, and with Don Johnson’s interest in California artists like Ed Ruscha and Billy Al Bengston, I had to ask Cruise whether he, like Broad, collected art. “Not yet,” he said, flashing the famous smile. “But I like to look at it.” And Hoffman? Was he a regular at LACMA openings? “You mean there have been others?” he quipped. Well, not like this. There has never been a night in the art world quite like this. As another show-biz personality would put it later, “Even for Hollywood, it was appalling.”

Actually, it was hugely entertaining: the ludicrous scale, the cracked-egg dessert of cream-filled red chocolate, the sheer moxie that put Maria Shriver on a program with Lionel Richie and Richard Meier, while Koons hobnobbed with Terry Semel, the former Warner Brothers executive who also left Yahoo! not so long ago, Disney CEO Robert Iger, and Sony Pictures chief Michael Lynton (a lifelong collector of art). You don’t see this kind of thing in New York! Seldom does the art world rival Hollywood on such even terms. It’s even more rare to find anyone promoting a museum as strenuously. For me, that is a welcome development, particularly at LACMA, an ugly duckling transformed into an art-loving swan thanks largely to the diplomatic skills of director Michael Govan, who was sitting on top of the world—hardly its safest place.

Left: Artist Chris Burden. Right: Dustin Hoffman with Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Natalia Villaraigosa. (Photos: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

Still, it was hard not to appreciate the ironies of an event that included, along with the ritual speeches of congratulation for anyone not an artist, a bar mitzvah–like set by Lionel Richie. I don't think I’ll ever forget watching the seventy-four-year-old Broad dance to “Brick House,” cheek by jowl with several hundred other people on a narrow strip of lighted Plexiglas floor. What really set tongues clucking, though, was the overproduced commercial for Broad, starring Boone, Baldessari, Koons, Damien Hirst, and even Richard Serra, all testifying to Broad’s generous patronage and “talents” as a collector.

No sooner did the film end than those attempting to flee were stopped in their tracks by the pounding chords of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” played loud from a stage descending from fifty feet above and carrying the pouty young pianist William Joseph, a sexy, hair-tossing violinist, and a hardworking drummer. “Couldn’t they afford Led Zeppelin?” asked new Brant Publications editorial director Glenn O’Brien.

Just then, the tent wall behind the players fell to the ground and there, klieg-lit and framed by Robert Irwin’s palm-tree garden, was the three-story BCAM in all its travertine glory. A dozen violinists with faces painted bright red to match Piano’s exterior escalator were also playing “Kashmir” as the crowd at last ascended to the building’s glass-ceilinged top floor. Here, amid a veritable playland of Koonsiana, bookended by Andy Warhol and Baldessari paintings (as if Koons were the key to these artists), the crowd gathered to grouse and coo at what was clearly the most expensive, rather than the most representative, display of works in Eli and Edythe Broad’s collection.

Left: Tony Bennett. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Disney CEO Robert Iger and Michael Eisner. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

Koons himself seemed uncharacteristically sheepish. Standing before his still-wacky ceramic sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles, the artist told his onetime patron Jeffrey Deitch, “You were the first to say my vacuum cleaners were important.” Now Deitch looked embarrassed. “I have always had complete faith in you, Jeff,” he said. The work of other 1980s-era art stars, like Eric Fischl, Ross Bleckner, Susan Rothenberg, and Julian Schnabel, represented by a single work apiece, were ghettoized in a room on the second floor, in the shadow of a spectacular and spacious installation of fifty-one Cindy Sherman photographs and several butterfly paintings by Damien Hirst.

“One can't really complain,” said Fischl later, speaking truth perhaps for many, while wondering whether the show wasn't more exposition than exhibition. It certainly did bare the machinations of power in art. As Kruger’s pungent text work, commissioned by LACMA for BCAM’s glass elevator shaft, put it, PLENTY SHOULD BE ENOUGH. If only we could all be as perfect.

Left: Artist Ed Ruscha. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan) Right: Writer Anne Stringfield with Steve Martin. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Shala Monroque and Larry Gagosian. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Ellsworth Kelly. (Photo: Brian Lindensmith for Patrick McMullan)

Left: Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota with New Museum director Lisa Phillips. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Anjelica Huston and Lauren Hutton. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

Left: Lionel Richie. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Maria Shriver and Bobby Shriver. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

Left: Nicole Richie. (Photo: Brian Lindensmith for Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Cindy Sherman, Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden, and musician David Byrne. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: LACMA trustee and gala chair Jane Nathanson with Mark Nathanson. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan) Right: Dealer Marian Goodman. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Artist Francesco Vezzoli with UCLA Hammer Museum director Anne Philbin. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan) Right: Artists Lari Pittman and Roy Dowell. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Buzz Aldrin with LACMA president and COO Melody Kanschat. (Photo: Andreas Branch for Patrick McMullan) Right: Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Artist Richard Serra. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Susan Bay and Leonard Nimoy. (Photo: Brian Lindensmith for Patrick McMullan)

Left: Artist Philip Taaffe with dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Collector Eileen Norton with Thelma Golden. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

Left: Dealer Tim Blum with Maria Blum. Right: Dealer Jeffrey Deitch. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Broad Foundation curator Joanne Heyler and Sotheby's Lisa Dennison. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Michael Govan with Tom Ford. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

Left: Publisher Benedikt Taschen with Beyeler Foundation director Samuel Keller. (Photo: Miggi Hood) Right: Rita Wilson. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

Left: Don Johnson. Right: Hirshhorn chief curator Kerry Brougher. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Collector Irving Blum. Right: Actor James Franco. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Collector Melva Bucksbaum. Right: Artist Doug Aitken. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: MoCA deputy director Ari Wiseman with artist Takashi Murakami. Right: Christie's vice president Laura Paulson. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: David Ross with artists Kira Perov and Bill Viola. Right: Artist Mark Bradford. (Photos: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: Frank and Berta Gehry. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan) Right: Artist Eric Fischl. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky)

Left: William Morris Agency president James Wiatt. (Photo: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Actor James Spader and Victoria Spader. (Photo: Stefanie Keenan for Patrick McMullan)

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