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Party arty all night

The lines stretched a quarter-mile and into the wee hours as a free LACMA bash mixed music and Old Masters.

September 20, 2003|Diane Haithman and Mark Ehrman | Special to The Times

Between 9 p.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday, more than 8,000 L.A. scenesters braved multi-hour waits and quarter-mile lines to attend Cabaret LACMA, a free, all-night public bash at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Celebrating the success of two ongoing exhibitions -- "Old Masters, Impressionists and Moderns: French Masterworks From the State Pushkin Museum, Moscow" and "Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse" -- the museum combined free admission to the popular art shows (regular tickets range from $12 to $20 for both, including access to the museum's permanent collections) with live classical and electronic music, food and drinks, prizes including luxury travel and hotel accommodations, video presentations, a live graffiti artist and a sneak preview of the upcoming feature film "Modigliani," starring Andy Garcia.

"I've never seen anything like it in my 19 years in L.A.," said artist Steven Dornbusch, 46. Dornbusch, who lives close to LACMA, came to the museum twice during the evening -- once shortly after 10 p.m. and again at 2:15 a.m. because the 10 o'clock line was too long. "There was obviously a buzz about this. People coming out were talking about how great this was," Dornbusch offered as explanation of why he came back. But the lines were still too long at 2:15. "I never went in," he confessed.

The eclectic crowd spanned all ages and demographics. "Nico," a self-described dominatrix, made her own fashion statement, arriving in a polka-dot dress and 6-inch heels (Nico also said she holds a master's degree in fine arts). But attendees including Dornbusch noted a particularly large contingent of Gen-Yers turning out for the Old Masters, sporting dyed hair, flamboyant clothing and, on many young women, headbands reminiscent of the hippie era.

Museum spokesman Bo Smith said the museum had done some advertising on local university campuses and added that many attendees arrived for the event clutching e-mails from friends spreading the news. "We got it out to colleges, USC and CSUN, and it was mainly word of mouth. There was sort of a viral component, if you will," Smith said.

Musical performers for the evening included students from USC's Thornton School of Music, among them two classical guitarists, a jazz duo and cellist Jakub Omsky. Classical guitarist Eric Banzant-Feldra, 25, who performed with Michael Kudirka, said the crowd contained plenty of his peers. He was only disappointed that there was no place to dance.

"It was definitely varied, but a mostly a younger crowd, twentysomethings. Everybody was dressed to kill, and there was a real party vibe," Banzant-Feldra said in an interview Friday morning. "I thought it was great, a very fun night. It was probably less conducive to serious art appreciation, but on the other hand, it probably encouraged a lot of people to come to the museum and check out the Masters."

Two roommates in their 20s, photographer Nicole Katz and actress-waitress Julie Webster, were still shivering at 3:20 a.m. inside the museum in a line to buy hot dogs. They said they were there for "free art and cute boys." They admitted that they had cut to the head of the line but said that they had a legitimate reason. "It was either cut or pee in the street," said one.

The exhibition's hours also worked well for infants. Colleen Davis, 38, a researcher for Historic Resources Group in Los Angeles, chose to attend the exhibition at 5:30 a.m. because her 15-month-old, Eoin Janeiro, was sleeping during the earlier evening hours. She and partner Adam Janeiro, who live in the West Adams area, woke the baby up to go to the museum. "He was pretty cheerful about it," Davis observed.

At that hour of the morning, Davis said, the music was over -- but the lines were gone, the crowds had thinned, and there was easy access to the galleries. She said the reason she and her family chose to attend the free event was the money.

"Cost was definitely a factor -- we tried to go earlier in the month with family, and for six adults it was really prohibitive," she said. "Then, when we saw ads that it was going to be free, I just thought it was a great idea. Plus, the adventure of it was appealing, going at this very odd hour. It seemed like a fun idea."

Melody Kanschat, senior vice president of the museum, compared the success of the all-night party to a similar event when the museum kept a popular Van Gogh exhibition open for 64 hours straight in 1999 during the show's final days -- although those patrons paid to get in.

"I'm an old woman. I don't usually stay out this late," she observed around 2:30 a.m. "But I was up for 64 hours for the Van Gogh exhibition, so I think I can do it."

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