For its 50th birthday, LACMA gets $675 million in gifts

LACMA marks 50 years by unveiling recently donated works of art from longtime supporters

At major museum galas, certain things are a given: billionaire art collectors socializing with local politicians, society women showing off couture gowns, air-kissing celebrities hopping tables with grace and alacrity.

But even the most experienced gala veteran would have to admit that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's 50th-anniversary celebration Saturday provided novelties: aerial performance artists from Australia, sparkling pyrotechnics, a doughnut stand for late-night snacking.

Mixing the high and the low, the LACMA gala officially marked the museum's first five decades on Wilshire Boulevard with the unveiling of recently donated works of art from longtime supporters.

An estimated 750 people crowded into the Resnick Pavilion on LACMA's campus to ogle the pieces from the 15th century to the contemporary and to sit down for a dinner and a surprise performance by pop star Seal.

Museum officials said the gala raised $5 million, which will go toward programming and acquisitions.

"I think it's further proof that this is L.A.'s moment and a second golden age of the city," Mayor Eric Garcetti said, recalling when his father took him to LACMA frequently as a child and took photos of him in front of a Van Gogh canvas at different stages of his youth.

Selections of the recently gifted art will be displayed in the exhibition "50 for 50" opening to the public Sunday.

Film and TV producer Steve Tisch has given a Vija Celmins piece to the museum. He said that LACMA Chief Executive Michael Govan asked him to consider donating the work, which will be the first Celmins painting to enter the collection.

"I told him that I needed to know whether the gift would take effect when I'm dead or my career is dead," the Oscar-winning producer joked Saturday.

Lynda and Stewart Resnick donated a few pieces, including a Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres canvas, a bronze by Flemish Renaissance sculptor Giambologna and a work by Hans Memling.

The Impressionist era was represented by a diaphanous Monet painting from film and TV producer Leonard Goldberg and his wife, Wendy.

LACMA has valued the donated art at more than $675 million, including former Univision mogul Jerry Perenchio's recent gifts, which the museum have pegged at $500 million.

Perenchio, who has avoided reporters for much of his career, was present on Saturday, accompanied by actress Anjelica Huston.

Also in attendance were Michael Lynton of Sony and Brad Grey of Paramount, both of whom are trustees; Bob Iger of Disney, married to trustee Willow Bay; and Sherry Lansing, past Paramount CEO, who came with her husband, director William Friedkin.

Guests drank wine from museum trustee Ann Colgin's Napa winery and dined on steaks prepared under the direction of Patina chef Joachim Splichal. They were treated to aerial acts by members of Strange Fruit, from Melbourne, Australia. Performers on bendy stilts gyrated over arrivals at artist Chris Burden's "Urban Light" installation and, later, undulated in an iridescent glow as guests had dinner.

Trustee Jane Nathanson told guests their support has turned the Miracle Mile portion of Wilshire "into a block where miracles are really happening."

She added that all the museum needs now is a "face-lift," referring to the planned new building by architect Peter Zumthor for which trustees are raising money.

The room's star quotient grew with Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman, making for a "Meet the Fockers" reunion of sorts. (Streisand is a former museum trustee.) Other guests included Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber as well as Jim Carrey, Armie Hammer and Will Ferrell, who is married to trustee Viveca Paulin.

Seal's appearance on Saturday was the work of museum trustees Ryan Seacrest and songwriter Carole Bayer Sager.

"Ryan and I sent emails back and forth every day," she said of her hand in gala planning. "Between us, Ryan made the call to Seal."

Corporate sponsorships were also evident. The gala was underwritten by Christie's (allowing cultural commentators to parse the meaning of a for-profit auction house's involvement with a nonprofit museum) while the "50 for 50" show is being sponsored by Bank of America.

At the end of the evening, students from the John Burroughs High School Powerhouse Choir in Burbank sang a birthday tribute to the museum.

Govan summed up the mood: "It's great to have a good time when the art value is so strong."

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