LACMA kicks off gala series with Clint Eastwood, John Baldessari
On Saturday evening, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art threw itself a party that organizers hope will be the start of an annual tradition. "Art + Film" was LACMA's first major fundraising gala of its kind, and it drew the sort of celebrity wattage that one normally associates with award shows and movie premieres.
LACMA joins a handful of other major museums that host annual, star-studded fundraising galas, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hammer Museum in L.A.
"Art + Film," was intended as a tribute to the overlapping worlds of cinema and the visual arts, though judging by the attendance roster the emphasis was more on the former than the latter. The party was held in the main LACMA courtyard, where a massive heated tent served as the main dining area.
Michael Govan, the director of LACMA, said in a brief interview that the event was expected to raise about $3 million for the museum. The black-tie dinner was attended by approximately 500 guests, including the two honorees, Clint Eastwood and John Baldessari.
A little more than two years ago, LACMA's relationship with the local film community hit a sour note when the museum announced that it was shutting down the majority of its film screening program. The announcement provoked harsh words from some major Hollywood insiders, and the museum eventually backtracked.
Since then, LACMA has relaunched its film program in a partnership with Film Independent. It also has entered into an agreement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the planning of a new film museum on the LACMA campus. Govan said the film museum was at least a few years away from realization and that he was volunteering his knowledge and expertise to the academy.
Getting into Saturday's gala wasn't cheap. There were four ticket levels ranging from $5,000 to $100,000. A LACMA spokeswoman said that a number of museum trustees purchased tables and then donated their seats. In his speech, Eastwood singled out Warner Bros., which he said purchased two tables for the evening.
Other studios also bought seats or contributed to the event, including Paramount, Sony Pictures and Disney.
The museum has held gala parties before, but they tended to be for specific, one-off events, such as the opening of the Resnick Pavilion in 2010. "Art + Film" represents the museum's first foray into the annual gala scene, and the plan is to hold one every year.
Saturday's party was co-chaired by LACMA trustee Eva Chow and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Chow said in an interview that the idea for the gala came about a year and a half ago in discussions with Govan. She said she helped to bring on board Gucci, which was the corporate sponsor for the event.
DiCaprio was on hand to introduce Eastwood. The two worked together on the new Warner Bros. film "J. Edgar," which they presented at the AFI Fest earlier in the week. Eastwood kept his speech short, at one point threatening jokingly to perform songs from "Paint Your Wagon."
The filmmaker said that L.A. "really deserves a sensational museum" dedicated to the art of movies.
Baldessari said in an interview that he's a film buff and that he sees "two to three films a night." The L.A. artist has used cinematic images in many of his works and he once singled out filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard has one of the most important artists of the last few decades.
Both Eastwood and Baldessari received video tributes during the dinner. The tribute to Baldessari, which drew raves from the audience, was a frenzied, impressionistic video narrated by Tom Waits, who hails from Baldessari's home town of National City, Calif. The Baldessari video was created by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman of Supermarché Inc.
Stevie Wonder closed the evening with an extended set that had people dancing in the aisles, including Eastwood.
Terry Semel, the former Warner Bros. executive and current co-chair of LACMA's board of trustees, said in a phone interview after the gala that the museum never used to do events centered on major filmmakers and that some LACMA leaders were initially reluctant to make film a focus.
"But I think everyone is in agreement now," he said.
Semel said the museum was working on an exhibition and retrospective devoted to Stanley Kubrick that is slated for 2012. He said he had met with the Kubrick family a number of times and that the exhibition portion of the program will feature photos and personal items from the late filmmaker.
LACMA has stated that proceeds from Saturday's gala will go toward its film initiatives as well as "exhibitions, acquisitions and educational programming."
Among the art-world luminaries in attendance Saturday were Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel and MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, who wore a silvery tuxedo.
Celebrities in attendance included Uma Thurman, Jane Fonda, Jon Hamm, Mickey Rourke, Armie Hammer, Amy Adams, Marcia Gay Harden, Evan Rachel Wood, Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Patton Oswalt, Jason Reitman, Eli Roth, Zac Efron, Dominic Cooper, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.
-- David Ng
Photo: Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio and LACMA trustee Eva Chow at Saturday's gala. Credit: John Shearer / Getty Images for LACMA