“Get ready for a cultural ambush!” Jeffrey Deitch, director of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, told a star-studded crowd at the museum’s gala on Saturday. And ambushed they were, as Gwen Stefani, Kate Bosworth, Chloe Sevigny, and Kirsten Dunst took in a big dose of art throughout the night. (On Monday night, MOCA announced that the gala raised more than $3.2 million.)
Kristin Davis, in a red strapless dress, took a phone picture with a friend in front of a red Mark Rothko painting. “She stands out, but I blend in,” Davis joked. Will Ferrell and his wife admired a Lee Krasner canvas, and Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale were entranced by Doug Aitken’s three-room video installation, Electric Earth, which surrounded viewers from all angles with large-scale video screens playing clips of a young man on the streets of Los Angeles.
And inside the lavish 900-person dinner, the art continued: Aitken was the unseen master of ceremonies behind the event. He designed a ceiling installation with architect Barbara Bestor that sent ripples of light across the ceiling of the room. He worked with performers Beck, Devendra Banhart, and Caetano Veloso on the music, and created six percussive "sonic tables" that were played by drummers during dessert. Aitken also enlisted the help of Joanna Moore, owner of Venice-based restaurant Axe, to consult on the food: baked flat breads, wedges of lettuce, roasted vegetables, steak. “Doug Aitken did the salad,” one guest joked. “But he forgot the dressing!”
The museum’s splashy 30th anniversary gala last year was framed as a massive comeback after years of financial turmoil. Last year’s event was branded “MOCA New” as Lady Gaga debuted an original song on a Damien Hirst piano, and guests were treated to a performance by Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet. The celebration this year couldn’t have been more different. Deitch took the job as director in June, and has, since then, worked to reconnect the museum with its local roots. The new exhibition, The Artist’s Museum, is an ambitious show that features work from 146 local artists.
Gallery: See pictures from MOCA’s Gala
Instead of trying to outdo Lady Gaga, Deitch took it local. “After last year’s event, I couldn’t imagine that we could top that,” said Eli Broad, the museum’s chairman emeritus who bailed out the museum with a $30 million gift. He called Deitch an “unconventional choice” as the museum’s director, but said that he “has a remarkable connection with artists and a populist view of museums.” That much was clear—last night was a perfect marriage of marquee names and localized talent.
Isabel Wilkinson is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast.