Human centerpieces and performance art served up at MOCA gala
How do you even begin to find the words to describe a museum gala for which each and every guest (Eli Broad, even) is required to wear a white lab coat, and at which the table centerpieces are live humans, and the dessert is an offering of edible body parts?
Epic. That's what the Museum of Contemporary Art's annual gala was on Saturday night. Titled "An Artist's Life Manifesto," the event was conceived by performance artist Marina Abramovic. And it managed to generate its share of controversy before it even got off the ground. The use of humans as centerpieces, which dancer Yvonne Rainer called "exploitative" and "a grotesque spectacle," manifested itself, in part, in nude prone female bodies rotating in the center of several large round tables. (What was grotesque was that, as Abvramovic put it, she was "allowed" to use nude female bodies, but not male ones.)
Other tables had live human heads poking through. Cards at each place setting instructed guests to "look but don't touch" the performers. "The centerpiece will observe you. You may observe the centerpiece. No touching, feeding, offering drink, or disrespecting the centerpiece. All communication and connection with the centerpiece must be non-verbal." And so on.
(If you think the performance art aspect was limited to the efforts of these performers alone, we suggest you try to eat a frisee salad while being silently judged by your centerpiece.)
The piece was designed to provoke and disturb, and it worked.
The lab coats, which everyone was asked to don on the way into the gala tent, were designed to make guests part of the experiment. They also leveled the fashion playing field -- to interesting effect -- and made some of the Hollywood pretties look like cast members straight out of "General Hospital."
The event, which raised $2.5 million for the museum, culminated in a performance by Deborah Harry followed by the offering up of body parts for dessert -- in the form of two life-size cakes that were perfect doppelgangers for Abramovic and Harry. After the two ladies plunged their steely knives into their confectionery doubles, reaching inside to rip out the "hearts," waiters dismembered the toes, breasts, etc., and served them to guests. A surreal scene if ever there was one.
By way of introducing MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch, Broad described the last two years at the museum as a "spectacular turnaround." The museum's endowment has doubled and attendance has tripled during Deitch's tenure, Broad, a MOCA trustee, said.
Deitch called Abramovic "the most influential performance artist working today."
When the artist took the stage, she said, "it has not been easy to force you all into lab coats. But I like the idea of transformation." She thanked the 120 performance artists participating in the evening's work, some of whom had to hold their position and concentration for four hours.
Gov. Jerry Brown and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were among the high-profile guests. From the art world, Doug Aiken, Ed Ruscha, Kenneth Anger and Mark Bradford were there. Hollywood types included Liz Goldwyn, Dita von Teese, Kirsten Dunst, Gwen Stefani, Will Ferrell and Nicole Richie. There were plenty of fashion folks too -- Monique Lhuillier, Jeremy Scott, Chrome Hearts' Richard and Laurie Stark, Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor, and Cameron Silver. Hedi Slimane was in the house as well. The designer-turned-photographer opened an exhibition at the museum's Pacific Design Center space on Friday, titled "California Song."
Before the lab coats went on, some spectacular outfits made a quick appearance. Von Teese was in a Jean Paul Gaultier gown (she had just accompanied the designer to the opening of his retrospective at the Dallas Museum of Art). The artist Rosson Crow was in a fit 'n' flare vintage Don Loper gown, and Gelila Puck had her hair in a 1920s coif, in the spirit of her flapper-esque hand-painted James Galanos gown. Scott no doubt was wearing one of his own designs -- a gold tuxedo vest sans shirt -- and Lisa Eisner had on a festive full skirt trimmed in fur. Wanda McDaniel was representing for her boss, wearing a fun dress with Giorgio Armani's face on the front.
The white lab coats might have made it hard to see the fashion statements, but they made a statement themselves. As the lab-coated people decamped to the valet line, we wondered aloud about one more piece of performance art.
We'd all make one heck of a flash mob at the local emergency room.
-- Booth Moore and Adam Tschorn
Photos: At top, one of the several tables at the MOCA gala's "An Artist's Life Manifesto," directed by Marina Abramovic on Nov. 12, 2011. At middle, left, Will Ferrell and Monique Lhuiller at the MOCA gala. Credit: Both by Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for MOCA. At right, Deborah Harry performs while being carried onto the stage at the MOCA gala. Credit: John Sciulli / Getty Images for MOCA.