Ed Ruscha, China Chow, and Janelle Monae Party Up a Storm at MOCA Gala 2015 Honoring John Baldessari
The red carpet was orange, Baldessari orange.
“The end of boring art, the pelicans in the desert… Carrots. And parrots. Green peas… The art historian Clement Greenberg. All the drugs driving from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. God. God’s nose.”
What do all the things in this odd-sounding inventory have in common? Artist John Baldessari, of course. This list is a distillation of MOCA director Philippe Vergne’s enthusiastic tribute speech at Saturday night’s edition of the museum’s annual fundraising gala, this time with Baldessari as its guest of honor. Around 800 guests gathered in a party tent outside the Geffen Contemporary in Downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the 83-year-old California conceptual art legend for, in Vergne’s words, his pivotal role in the formation of body art, word art, post-structuralist, postmodernist, and proto-appropriation art; the rise of Los Angeles as an art center; over 377 solo exhibitions, 1,500 group shows, and 4,000 works of art—not to mention Baldessari’s position as an artist trustee, newly resumed this past year (see Jeffrey Deitch Defends Klaus Biesenbach and Helen Molesworth Hired as Chief Curator of LA MOCA).
In Baldessari’s honor, the scrawling text of his pledge, “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art,” which he took in 1971, was projected onto the tent’s interior walls. The floors were lit with LED lights and had walkways with images of blue skies and drifting clouds dotted with blue and orange circles of the kind Baldessari is known for. As Janelle Monae was rolled on a cart onstage and sang, we ate blue and orange macarons that evoked the joy and surrealism of the dot painting. It was fun, and so LA.
There are subtle, specific differences between LA art museum galas and their New York counterparts the most obvious of which is the amplified West-Coast representation (see 10 LA Art Power Couples You Need to Know). In attendance were Frank Gehry, Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, and other quintessential LA luminaries who were either close to Baldessari or loved him from afar (see Take an Exclusive Look at Shepard Fairey’s Portlandia Cameo). And we raised a glass to one LA art scene icon who was not.
“To Chris Burden,” Vergne said at the podium, “for his contribution to the art world, Los Angeles, and to MOCA.” (See Performance Art Legend Chris Burden Is Dead at 69.)
Unsurprisingly, there’s the red carpet (in this case, Baldessari orange) aspect that accommodates the greater celebrity presence, a direct result of the museum’s close proximity to Hollywood.
There was Marisa Tomei taking iPhone snapshots in front of William Pope.L’s “Trinket,” the oversized American flag now flying in the artificial wind of the Geffen Contemporary’s main exhibition space, a work of monumental political gravity that Vergne lauded as “absolutely fabulous.” We had a glimpse of the Arquettes (Rosanna and Patricia), and saw a few ladies who looked like Tori Spelling bearing high-cut miniskirts. Actor Adrian Grenier’s entire table was mysteriously empty, its Wolfgang Puck-designed white asparagus starter courses left wholly untouched (see the article that Grenier liked Ways of Seeing Instagram).
And after all of this fanfare happening in his honor—the décor, the dancing, the outpouring of sentiment and cheekily art-themed desserts—what did the man of the hour have to say?
He kept his speech short—it was under three minutes—devoting the majority of it to musing on the proper pronunciation of “gala.”
“Thank you,” Baldessari said on stage. “Now I know what a gala is.”
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