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MOCA welcomes artist Francesco Vezzoli to L.A. in old Hollywood style

Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art celebrated the opening of its “Cinema Vezzoli” exhibition on Friday night with a dinner at the historic Hollywood haunt Musso & Frank.

With the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside, and the ghosts of Hollywood past since 1919 inside, the location was perfect for a party for the Milan-based contemporary artist Francesco Vezzoli, much of whose work over the past decade plus has referenced the worship of celebrity culture and the highs and lows of fame, from embroidered portraits of movie stars shedding tears, to satirical short films featuring some of the biggest names in entertainment (Sonia Braga, Catherine Deneuve, Helen Mirren, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams).

The martini-fueled fete closed down the restaurant, and drew art, film and fashion luminaries, including MOCA director Philippe Vergne, MOCA patrons Lilly Tartikoff Karatz, Maria Bell, David Johnson, Eugenio Lopez, Carolyn Powers, Eli and Edythe Broad, MOMA PS 1 Director Klaus Biesenbach, ForYourArt founder Bettina Korek, film director Matt Tyrnaeur, novelist/screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis, producer/director/writer Darren Star, filmmaker/author Liz Goldwyn, Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, jewelry designer Monique Pean, Band of Outsiders designer Scott Sternberg, costume designer/stylist B. Akerlund and more.

“More than any other institution, MOCA has adopted me the most,” said Vezzoli, a fashion industry favorite who featured togas by Donatella Versace in his “Caligula” film, and was commissioned by Miuccia Prada to create a video based on an Italian version of “The Dating Game.”

In L.A., MOCA has had a relationship with the 43-year-old artist since 2001, when the museum acquired Vezzoli’s 1999 piece, “Love Trilogy: Self-Portrait With Marisa Berenson as Edith Piaf.” In 2009, he created a performance work titled “Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again)" for MOCA’s 30th anniversary gala. It starred Lady Gaga and dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet performing the world premiere of the hit song “Speechless.” And in 2012, Vezzoli donated to the museum his 2009 work “Greed, A New Fragrance by Francesco Vezzoli,” a 60-second satire of a commercial perfume launch, directed by Roman Polanski. 

“His work is about capturing ambiguity, it’s about design, sex, oppression and the narcissism of Western culture,” Vergne said. “It’s also about emancipation. We are allowed to love Catherine Deneuve, Yves Saint Laurent and Gore Vidal and still be a radical.”

Vezzoli studied at Central St. Martins, where he first starting exploring the blending of high and low culture. His first works were embroidered samplers of messages he found on calling cards left by prostitutes in phone booths.

“Cinema Vezzoli” is the second exhibition in a three-part series exploring different themes of his work at international museums. Installed at the Grand Avenue location, the show features embroidered tapestries, sculpture, movie posters and films by Vezzoli.

Specifically for the exhibition, he created a series of portraits of actors from the 1955 film “Rebel Without A Cause,” with embroidered tears and bloody handprints, in star-shaped frames reminiscent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“The work is about the ephemerality of fame and the tragedy of stardom,” said Alma Ruiz, MOCA’s senior curator, who organized the exhibition with the artist.

For the opening, Milan-based fashion lifestyle website Yoox.com sponsored a fascinating 20-minute video tour of the exhibition led by Ruiz and Vezzoli, which can be viewed on the site and MOCA.org.  

In the film, the artist explains how his lifelong obsession with celebrity started with the classic films of Italian director Luchino Visconti. But ultimately Vezzoli reveals he is finished with Hollywood as an oeuvre. “I’m ready to move onto other hierarchies of power,” he said. "I can say from experience, Hollywood is a cake that can be very sweet but very bitter at the same time."

Indeed.

"Cinema Vezzoli," through Aug. 11, Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, MOCA.org.

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booth.moore@latimes.com

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