“Would you like to waltz?” asked the stranger in a Venetian carnival mask, white gloves and a Renaissance-style suit.
Then he wrapped a blindfold around my eyes and led me into a pitch-black ballroom filled with other masked dancers leading other blindfolded guests in a waltz. It was quiet except for what sounded like live viola music and the communal swooshing of ballgowns and feet on the hardwood floor.
The piece, Liz Glynn’s “Waltz No. 9 (Blindness),” was one of several experimental interactive art installations Saturday night at the LAXArt Gala. The evening of art and excess, held at the lavish Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, with tickets costing $1,000 apiece, was the inaugural biannual fundraiser for the nonprofit contemporary art institution. Twenty-eight artists were asked to respond to the 1920s Tudor-style mansion perched overlooking Doheny Drive and Sunset Boulevard -- the home a gift from oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny to his son Edward “Ned” Doheny Jr. in 1928.
Guests were greeted by three art pieces in the entrance courtyard. Ry Rocklen’s “Untitled Hummer Flat, 2014,” a static sculpture, featured a cast bronze flat tire; for Isaac Resnikoff's piece, an attendant in a white tuxedo jacket stood stock-still by his pyramid of wine glasses, “Champagne Pyramid, 2014,” which was filled with a homemade bubbly; Mattia Biagi personally led visitors through his “There Is Nothing to Fear Than Fear Itself,” an obstacle course in which participants faced superstitions head-on, spilling salt, running under ladders, stepping on a patch of concrete cracks and, finally, smashing a mirror with a hammer.
This last piece captured the imagination of actor Danny Huston. “It’s a bit creepy,” he said after emerging. “But also invigorating. We’ll see what happens when I leave here!”
LAXArt founder and Director Lauri Firstenberg called Greystone "such a mysterious site."
“Artists are fascinated by the mythology of it, the drama, the intrigue," she said. "We wanted to give them the chance to respond to that, and to use the [space] as an experimental context for showing art.”
Inside, Tim Youd pecked away at an antique typewriter as part of his performance piece,“Retyping Upton Sinclair’s Oil! on an Underwood #5.” (The artist will keep at it until he’s re-typed the entire novel.)
In a particularly dramatic installation, “The Dirty Poke Ain't No Joke,” artist Joel Kyack -- working in the basement bowling alley where the climactic scene from “There Will Be Blood” was filmed -- gave real tattoos of international currency symbols to a few guests, including my date.
“It’s about here, this place,” he said of his installation. “Tattoos are showing pride or allegiance to something, and this is about showing your allegiance to money. This is a fundraiser that, to be frank, cost $1,000 a head.”
Not all of the installations were interactive. Molly Surno’s “We of Me, 2014,” saw three young women, wrapped in plush white towels, sitting silently in front of a vanity, blank expressions on their faces. They repeatedly brushed their hair in response to deafening static coming from nearby amps.
The courtyard was filled with more than 20 of Israeli artist Galia Linn’s high fired, glossy clay vessels, their divots and cracks giving them an abstract look.
“[Italian painter] Lucio Fontana said in his famous quote that he discovered the hole. I say that I discovered the crack,” she joked of her installation, "Vessels." Then, turning serious: “Like these vessels, we are fragile, and our own cracks are what make us unique along our journey in life.”
LAXArt, which turns 10 next year, is relocating from Culver City to 7000 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood; the space doesn't officially debut until January, 2015, but some of the work shown at the Greystone fundraiser is on display there now.