A MILLION-PLUS bucks may seem a rather extravagant gift for your average birthday celebrant. But Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art is no average honoree. Likewise, the party celebrating MOCA's 25th year was not your typical anniversary gala. Not only did the spring fund-raising bash pull in $1.5 million to aid the museum's education and community outreach programs, but it also exhilarated — and occasionally unsettled, according to chair Jane Nathanson — the star-studded crowd.
OFF THE WALL
“We like to titillate people with what is new,” says Nathanson of the goal behind the event's design directive. “You won't see a beautiful picture of a still life here.”
As such, she notes, the life of MOCA's birthday party had to be anything but still. Fortunately, the advent of performance art — a form the chair deems “what is new and happening in the art world today” — allowed the event's planning committee to give guests a feel for the cutting edge while keeping them entertained.
Doing the honors was Los Angeles-based experimental ensemble String Theory. The group's “fantastic” performance, which took place as guests arrived, included a harp with its strings attached to the ceiling of the event space, Nathanson says.
The cavernous interior of event site the Geffen Contemporary in downtown Los Angeles — one of MOCA's three locations — made the spectacle even more impressive to behold, and, like other event components including seating, staging and foodservice, even more complicated to execute. “Everything was a challenge. We had to move walls, take down and store art … and then it all had to be out of there again the next morning so everything could be reinstalled as it was,” the chair explains.
Unconventional strumming wasn't the only thing winning guests' attention. Nathanson points to decor highlights such as MOCA's name spelled out in 12-foot-high hedge topiaries, and a ceiling treatment of white paper lanterns. A striking scheme of black table linen and black chairs from Los Angeles-based Classic Party Rentals framed understated centerpiece arrangements of white orchids from L.A.'s Mark's Garden. “As for color,” Nathanson says, “we always like the color in the room to be the people.”
Those people included actors Chloe Sevigny and Joely Richardson, artist Ed Ruscha and philanthropist Eli Broad, who was honored, along with 25 builders and 25 artists who contributed to MOCA's achievements, during a presentation following a sumptuous plated dinner of tomato mousse and dry-aged strip loin from museum caterer Patina.
To keep the 700-strong crowd from getting too settled down in the midst of these traditional gala activities, Nathanson and crew threw a twist into the evening, bringing out electronica-video-performance duo and art-world darlings Fischerspooner. On a stage designed by Los Angeles event guru Ben Bourgeois, who also contributed lighting and decor guidance for the overall event, according to the chair, the high-energy act “jumped around, were very loud and stripped and changed costumes on stage.” She concedes, “It was very bizarre. But I think that's what MOCA is about.” That's why, she says, while “this [performance] made a lot of people uncomfortable,” it was also the perfect way to communicate MOCA's message.
A longtime MOCA devotee and board member, Nathanson says working on the gala — an annual event that usually is tied into an art opening, but this year took a different tack in honor of the museum's anniversary — gives her great satisfaction. It's a satisfaction she couldn't achieve without the help of professionals such as Mark's Garden — a regular museum gala vendor and “one of the most creative” forces behind this year's event — and museum communications provider Full Picture, Los Angeles. “We worked with them for the first time this year, and that was a delight,” she says.
Nathanson adds that she's also grateful for her background as a psychotherapist. “You have to be a psychologist to get all the different elements together. It wasn't easy,” she says. “But it's a passion — a work of love.”
From a custom menu designed by Patina's Joachim Splichal in honor of MOCA's anniversary
Red and Yellow Tomato Mousse with Buratta Mozzarella, Roasted Artichokes and Chopped Heirloom Tomato Tartar
Dry-Aged Strip Loin with Asparagus Risotto, Mascarpone, Shaved Pecorino, Morel Mushrooms and Fried Zucchini Flowers
Three Layers of Sorbet with Raspberry Coulis and Fresh Berries, served with Chocolate-Dipped Hazelnut Croquant