MOCA’s gala as ‘happening,’ with country auctioneers as performers


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It was clearly an experiment. Could Doug Aitken transform Saturday’s MOCA gala into something that did not feel like a gala but an artistic experience that he called a ‘happening’? And could the improvisatory, participatory spirit of a happening survive the fact that it was being promoted as such by a museum trying to sell $5,000 seats for it?

As it turns out, the night had elements of formal gala and artist performance both. As you might expect, salad, protein and dessert were served, in that order. Guests kissed and gossiped. Celebs such as Kirsten Dunst, Chloë Sevigny, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale posed for pictures. There were short speeches by MOCA benefactor Eli Broad, museum director Jeffrey Deitch and board co-chair Maria Bell (who announced that the event had raised about $3 million -- after flubbing and saying that the event had raised $300 million.) Gift bags from Chanel were handed out. Valet tickets were handed in.


Then there were some unusual, mainly percussive, touches. The entrance to the dinner tent was lined with a drum angle (not quite a triangle or circle). The percussionists wore sweatshirts that said things like ‘big, hot and beautiful’ -- different ‘ideas of the West’ that Aitken collected in book form. Those books were given out to each guest. And the performers inside were not your usual gala fare, reflecting Aitken’s longstanding interest in music and sound, more than an event planner’s go-to list.

Toward the end of the night, Aitken used a chorus of fast-talking country auctioneers to accompany percussionists who played on hollowed-out wood dining tables of his own design. (He had previously used the auctioneers in his 1998 video ‘These Restless Minds,’ his 2007 MoMA ‘happening,’ tied to his massive ‘Sleepwalkers’ installation there and a 2009 ‘opera’ in Basel, Switzerland.)

Earlier, Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso joined Beck, who had joined Devendra Banhart onstage, and all three performed together in a multilayered piece.

One of my dinner companions was impressed. ‘I am obsessed with Caetano Veloso,’ she said, whipping out an iPhone loaded with his music. Another shook her head, saying that it was ‘sweet’ but that it didn’t hold a candle to the flashy Francesco Vezzoli/Lady Gaga production last year.

‘Caetano Veloso is no Lady Gaga,’ she added. And whether that struck them as good or bad, everyone could agree on that.

--Jori Finkel


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