Why MOCA is honoring artist John Baldessari at Saturday gala

"We've totally rebuilt the team": @MOCAlosangeles's Philippe Vergne on his year in L.A.

Saturday night's gala for the Museum of Contemporary Art will honor artist and board member John Baldessari, with cocktails, dinner and a performance by R&B singer Janelle Monáe at the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo. 

The fundraiser comes shortly after museum Director Philippe Vergne begins his second year at MOCA. Last year’s gala celebrated his March 2014 arrival as well as the museum’s 35th anniversary.

Vergne said Baldessari's close relationship with MOCA was something he wanted to recognize this year.

“John -- he’s on the board and has been extremely committed to MOCA over the years,” Vergne said. “The more time I’ve spent with him, and around him, I just think his influence runs so deep in the community. As we were thinking of honoring artists, we all agreed that he was the perfect place to start.”

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Guest expected at the gala include actors Jim Carrey, Marisa Tomei and Patricia Arquette, architect Frank Gehry and artists Ed Ruscha, Sterling Ruby, Barbara Kruger and Catherine Opie, among others.

Vergne said a large number of artists will be in attendance.

“It’s a communal moment, patrons will be sitting in the room surrounded by artists,” Vergne said. “That’s not new necessarily, but renewed, like renewing your vows.

“We’re renewing our vows with artists and patrons and all the people who support us," he added. "It’s a huge wedding and this year we’re getting married to John Baldessari!”

Guests at the gala will be able to view “William Pope.L: Trinket,” an exhibition by the artist that includes a 55-by-16-foot fraying American flag, during the cocktail reception. The Wolfgang Puck-catered dinner and Monáe’s performance will follow.

Artists have always had a prominent presence at the MOCA gala, the museum's biggest fundraising event. Last year, guests previewed the museum’s Mike Kelley retrospective; in 2013, the event was timed to the opening of MOCA’s Urs Fisher show. The 2011 gala celebrated the work of performance artist Marina Abramovic and 2010’s event focused on multimedia artist Doug Aitken.

Of his first year as MOCA director, Vergne said, “We’ve totally rebuilt the team,” hiring chief curator Helen Molesworth and adding new board members.

“I think people are noticing our programming, a very contemporary program that engages artists -- it’s giving the museum back to artists,” he says. “Right now we have curated exhibitions, but they are not group shows; we’ve been focusing on individual artists.”

Twitter: @debvankin

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