LAVISH FEAST: Guests dine amid a sumptuous setting at the Museum of Contemporary… (Ann Johansson / For the Times )
The party started early for some patrons of the black-tie shindig for the Museum of Contemporary Art, when honorary gala chair Larry Gagosian welcomed them to his Beverly Hills art gallery for a brunch and preview of new paintings by Jeff Koons.
One quick look at the brunch dispelled any notion that last weekend's festivities held appeal for locals only. On the scene were artist Takashi Murakami from Japan; heavyweight boxer Vladimir Klitschko from Kiev, Ukraine; art collectors Victor Pinchuk and his wife, Elena Franchuk, also from the Ukraine; Oleg Baybakov from Moscow; and Sydney Picasso from Paris, among others.
"Everybody was talking about MOCA," said Gabriela Garza, who came with her husband, Ramiro, from Mexico. "We heard there were a lot of problems, so we wanted to be here."
She was referring to financial problems that had dogged the museum until gala co-chair Eli Broad stepped in, pledging money from the Broad Foundation and spurring other fund-raising efforts.
Between greeting guests, Koons said, "That's what's wonderful about the art world. Although the art may deal with external objects and images, what everybody cares about is the people. People want to be with each other and support each other."
Indeed, an estimated one-third of the guests at MOCA's 30th-anniversary gala on Nov. 14 came from outside Los Angeles.
Earlier this year, gala chairs Maria Arena Bell and Broad traveled to the world's great concentrations of art aficionados: the Venice Biennale in Italy and the Art Basel fair in Switzerland to talk about the museum.
"After reading so much of the press about MOCA, people had big question marks about what [its] future would be," Bell said. "People there expressed so much concern. They really cared. We talked about the situation and about how the museum had turned around, and we invited them to attend the gala."
The organizers also invited artists, and Bell counted 150 established and emerging artists in a crowd thick with celebrities such as Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Alba and Zoe Saldana; musicians such as Kenna and John Legend; and scores of other museum supporters, including honorary gala chair Dasha Zhukova; Robert Tuttle, former U.S. ambassador to the U.K.; and Maria Hummer-Tuttle.
The gala began with a preview of the exhibition "Collection: MOCA's First Thirty Years." Mera and Don Rubell of Miami Beach admired the museum's masterpieces as well as the city's spirit. "I get goose pimples when I think about the generosity of the people of L.A.," said Mera Rubell, who, with her husband, is among the country's top collectors.
Chloë Sevigny counted herself among museum supporters. "I come to MOCA often," she said, before heading with Liz Goldwyn to Ed Ruscha's "Chocolate Room," which, according to Ruscha, was "made of real chocolate silk-screened onto paper and then hung on the walls like shingles."
Board member Susan Gersh tallied three generations of MOCA supporters in her family: her husband David's parents, Beatrice and Philip Gersh, and her children Laura and Steven, who belong to the MOCA Contemporaries, a museum support group. The David Smith sculpture in the courtyard, she said, was a gift from her in-laws.
Well-wishers streamed by to congratulate Broad all evening.
There was no shortage of recording devices during the night's centerpiece, which video artist Francesco Vezzoli named "Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again)." As the chandeliers flickered, a number of guests set cellphones to "record" so they could revisit Vezzoli's vision: Lady Gaga and dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet.
"I am grateful to the museum that I'm given a blank canvas to mix the unmergeable and unmixable and turn this into a crazy artwork," Vezzoli said. Just as crazy was the success of the gala, which grossed more than $3.5 million for the museum.