MOCA taps L.A. artist Doug Aitken to make its next gala groovy, if not Gaga


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They said it, not us:

In announcing its next annual gala, set for Nov. 13, L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art asserted in a news release Thursday that last year’s bash in a tent in the middle of Grand Avenue had set “a new standard for museum galas” while raising $4 million.

Which, of course, raises the question: So what do they do for an encore? The answer begins with Doug Aitken, the L.A. video-artist MOCA says it has commissioned ‘to create an expansive, experiential work for the event.’


To recap: November’s party, a 30th anniversary celebration, carried the extra weight of showing the world that an institution that had made headlines a year earlier by overspending and/or under-fundraising itself into near-extinction was back on its feet -- a “MOCA New,” as the gala’s title put it. Eli Broad and other donors had come up with needed cash infusions, and the museum wanted to show it was ready to carry on in the acclaimed tradition reflected in the exhibition it was opening, a sprawling display of greatest hits (running still, through July 12) called “Collection: MOCA’s First 30 Years.”

To that end, MOCA commissioned the Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli, an affectionate if ironic video-art chronicler of the world of celebrity, to curate the 2009 gala. He came up with Lady Gaga debuting a new song at a grand piano decorated by Damien Hirst – a set-piece that by evening’s end had been auctioned for $450,000. Gaga wore a Vezzoli-made mask, and a very strange hat by architect Frank Gehry that looked like an homage to his Disney Hall.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie took in a preview of the exhibition, and Gwen Stefani, John Legend and Christina Ricci made the scene.
Commissioning Aitken is MOCA’s first move toward approaching, equaling or outdoing last year’s fete -- or is some regression inevitable on the way toward what one hopes will remain a solid fundraising mean?

‘He’s just been brought onto the project,” so Aitken’s plans are far from fleshed out, MOCA spokeswoman Lyn Winter said Thursday, but ideas being kicked around include a three-part work that would encompass not only the environs in and around the party tent, but something “elsewhere in Los Angeles,” plus a piece for the exhibition “The Artist’s Museum” that opens at MOCA in the fall. It’s another huge survey exhibition, exceeding 300 works by more than 100 artists, focusing on Los Angeles artists from 1980 to the present. Curated by Rebecca Morse, it opens Sept. 19 at the Geffen Contemporary and Oct. 24 at MOCA’s Grand Avenue galleries. While drawn largely from MOCA’s own collection, it also will feature pieces loaned by other L.A. collectors.

In addition to whatever he might come up with as part of his new commission, Aitken, who was born in Redondo Beach and is an alumnus of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, will be represented in “The Artist’s Museum” by “Electric Earth,” an eight-channel video and audio installation that was a hit of the 1999 Venice Biennale and the 2000 Whitney Biennial. A donor acquired it for MOCA in 2001, but this will be the first time it has been seen at the museum; viewing it at the Whitney, Times art critic Christopher Knight described “Electric Earth” as an “installation-size music video, a dreamy journey through an enervated American landscape of desolate motels, fluorescent Laundromats and empty parking lots [that] … pulls surprising visual and aural poetry from the unlikely terrain of our 7-Eleven culture.”

Aitken isn’t without resources when it comes to providing that Gaga pop-cultural factor – something that new MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch aims to have in the museum’s repertoire. Aitken directed the Fatboy Slim music video, “The Rockafeller Skank,” which riffs on old MTV-era ZZ Top clips by replacing ZZ’s three cool electro-blues dudes with three gawky funk-brothers who possess all the suaveness of the “wild and crazy guys” of Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin’s classic routine from “Saturday Night Live.” His 2007 video-art piece, “Sleepwalkers,” was screened both inside and on the exterior walls of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (pictured), with Donald Sutherland, Tilda Swinton, country-soul-rocker Cat Power and Brazilian samba musician Seu Jorge among the subjects enacting the piece’s contemplation of life in the Big Apple.
“We live in a temporal landscape where everything about our being is constantly in flux,” Aitken told the Los Angeles Times in 2006. “In that sense, it’s a fraud that so many films and so much literature feels this necessity to create a conclusion, a beginning and an end. It denies a lot of the mystique of life, you know?”


Maria Bell and Broad will co-chair the gala, which figures to have a beginning, an end, and a bottom line, notwithstanding its auteur’s theories about how to instill mystique. Art business eminences Larry Gagosian and Dasha Zhukova are honorary co-chairs.

– Mike Boehm


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Art review: `Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years’