Inside the 2016 LACMA Art + Film Gala, Where Stars Gathered to Honor Robert Irwin and Kathryn Bigelow
The event put film and art on equal footing.
“To be honest, I didn’t know who he was,” said Jaden Smith, decked out in a Gucci outfit, “but now I want to check him out.”
Smith was talking about Robert Irwin, the seminal Southern California Light and Space artist, who is seated a few yards away—down past Sylvester Stallone—hugging two women. Irwin, along with filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, was the co-honoree of the 6th annual Art + Film Gala at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The gala at LACMA is an interesting one—meant to bridge the schism between the two mediums, it celebrates both on equal footing. Smith, for instance, and Stallone, Salma Hayak, Gwyneth Paltrow, Melanie Griffith, Zoe Saldana, Brie Larson, Elizabeth Olsen, and co-host Leonardo DiCaprio repped the film side, while there were no shortage of art world talents: Jeff Koons, Ry Rocklen, Anthony Pearson, Andrea Longacre-White, Toba Kehdoori, Friedrich Kunath, Julian Hoeber, Doug Aitken, Wolfgang Tillmans, Jennifer West, Barbara Kruger, Catherine Opie, and even the reclusive Michael Heizer.
The evening started with sparkling rosé and hors d’oeuvres in front of Chris Burden’s Urban Light, where Paltrow and Hayak paused to take pictures in between Burden’s vintage streetlamps. I pulled up tindergirlsposingatlacma.tumblr.com and showed it to one of the event photographers, who rolled her eyes. “That’s literally every shot I’ve taken,” she said.
A bizarre scene developed in a corner of the cocktail tent, when guests in gowns and tuxes sported VR headsets to watch the trailer to Bigelow’s latest project, an immersive documentary called The Protectors about an anti-poaching brigade in the Congo. “I feel a little dizzy after watching that,” one guest told me, as she clutched her date. It’s true, for part of the trailer, Bigelow embeds you in a helicopter as you fly over a herd of elephants, and it’s not the easiest experience to stomach after downing a glass of rosé.
Guests were then herded into the lavish temporary structure that hosted the dinner. On my way in, I had a very Koons-ian moment, somehow getting onto the topic of breakfast cereal with the pop artist. “I’m aware that you’re a big fan of Cheerios,” I told him, having seen him post about the circular breakfast food on Twitter.
“The funny thing about Cheerios,” he said with a big grin on his face while pointing to the floor, “is that there’s usually one lying on the ground somewhere.”
Alas, amongst the Gucci loafers and Céline heels were nary an oat halo.
At dinner, I sat next to Naima Keith, a former curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, who took the role of the deputy director of the California African American Museum in February. She described the gala, her first, as a mix between the Met Gala and the gala at the Studio Museum. “There’s more celebrities than, say, the Studio Museum gala, but there’s more artists here than at the Met,” she observed. “Not that I’ve ever been to the Met Ball.”
I chatted with A$AP Rocky, who had. “Yeah, that was fun,” said the rapper. “This is fun, too.”
I asked him what his connection to LACMA was, and specifically if he was a collector. “I don’t consider myself a collector,” he said, haltingly.
“He’s a collector,” interjected Jaden Smith. “He just has a bunch of contemporary stuff, but he’s not going to call himself a collector until he has the classics.”
“Yeah, Picasso,” said Smith, whose phone lit up in his hand. “Hold on, I have to FaceTime this girl I like.”
At dinner, Smith had just seen a film running through the highlights of Robert Irwin’s career: his manipulations of environment; his cutting holes in gallery walls; his influence on a generation of artists as a teacher at University of California, Irvine; his garden at the Getty, and the palm trees that cast shadows on LACMA’s own buildings.
Underneath plants hanging from the ceiling—a nod to Irwin’s garden-based work, said co-chair Eva Chow—Irwin took the stage, and told a quick anecdote about the first time he came to LACMA: he deemed it so ugly that he didn’t return for 20 years. Still, his friendship with LACMA director Michael Govan—who worked with Irwin during his run at Dia:Beacon—brought him back to make the Primal Palm Garden in 2007. Then he concluded his one-minute speech.
“Having talked everywhere, anywhere,” said the 88-year-old artist, “at the drop of a hat, I have nothing to say other than, ‘Thank you.’”
After Irwin’s speech, a film, narrated by her friend Lawrence Weiner, reminded the 550 attendees that Kathryn Bigelow started her career as an artist. Afterwards, Bigelow showed a clip of herself reading on black-and-white film as part of a collaborative Art and Language piece. When she took the stage, Bigelow explained that John Baldessari had introduced her to Wiener at an opening at Leo Castelli in 1971.
“And for the next 10 years, he was my mentor and sometimes parent, when I would have no place to stay,” said the Academy Award-winning director. “He challenges you constantly, like, ‘What’s the purpose of art? What’s the meaning of art?’ That challenge never leaves you. I carry those conversations with me today. I’ll be out in the desert shooting something like Hurt Locker, and I’ll think, ‘Okay, what’s the meaning? What’s the purpose?’”
After Bigelow’s speech, indie rocker Børns took the stage for a musical performance to a tepid response.
In all, the gala raised $3.6 million for the museum’s future exhibitions and acquisitions. The museum is also currently in a fundraising drive to pay for a new $650 million Peter Zumthor-architected building. Last week, collectors Eric and Susan Smidt pledged $25 million to the museum. Govan said that put the museum at about the halfway point for the structure, which is undergoing environmental impact tests right now, and is anticipated to begin construction in late-2018.
“It was a great night,” Govan said, as we waited for our cars at the valet stand. “A fun little party, wouldn’t you say?”
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