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‘Art Quake ‘88’ Gets Things Shaking

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Oh, yes, the good old traditional “A Night in Monte Carlo,” the annual thriller given for the benefit of the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, was transmogrified Saturday into a novelty called “Art Quake ’88.” It’s easy enough to give this basic information, but how does one explain it?

It probably is important to consider this daring voyage into the farther realms of merrymaking primarily from an intellectual standpoint, because in its essence, Art Quake largely denied the existentialist movement and seemed based primarily, if not exclusively, on the wry abstractions embraced by Dadaism.

There are several ways to go about this. One could, for example, attempt a Freudian interpretation of a ball at which a fair proportion of the 900 guests dressed as trees, flowering shrubs, Dali-esque olives and moon maidens. On the other hand, and taking a thoroughly contemporary stance, one could look at Art Quake through the eyes of novelist Tom Clancy and his high-tech interpretations of East-West dialectics.

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But both psycho-babble and techno-babble only go so far in interpreting the deeper motives of solid citizens who willingly donned protective plastic apparel in order to enter the rarefied precincts of the museum called “The Paint Box,” where, urged by primal instincts, they randomly splashed various-colored paints across the museum’s walls and even etched such intriguing theories as “E equals MC2” and “John K. loves Janie S.”

If all this sounds like nonsense, that’s because Art Quake also was nonsense of the highest order. It had a Cheshire Cat sense to it, always fading away just as one tried to grasp its relation to the real world until one realized, finally, that there wasn’t that much of a connection. The whole point was having fun in a rather giddy, rarefied way, and the guests seemed to manage it with virtually no effort at all.

In a departure from past traditions, the museum’s trustees hired Dallas party planner Wendy Moss (who ever will be remembered for the Hotel del Coronado’s spectacular Centennial Ball in February of this year) to give La Jolla a party that would be a tad different from all the others.

Moss pulled off the feat with the assistance of her private staff and a bevy of LJMCA volunteers that included 1985 Monte Carlo chairman Heather Metcalf, Patti Mix, Collette Carson Royston, Liz McCullah, Martha Gafford, Carolyn Farris, Roy Porello, Carol Randolph, Barbara ZoBell and Carol Yorston.

Moss said that when she accepted the task several months ago, she decided that since the party was for the benefit of a contemporary art museum, it should be approached as an extension of the institution. That meant an artsy theme from start to finish, and guests were warned of this by the invitations, wooden crates that included metal grids and art supplies that were to be assembled into miniature works of art and brought along as party props. All of these were hung on a wall sculpture that, by advertisement, will be a permanent addition to the museum; of the hundreds of entries, a favorite was titled “After Quake,” and was decorated with containers of aspirin, Pepto Bismol, Alka Seltzer and Tums. Given the endless selections of food and drink, this turned out to be a prime example of prophetic art.

In a major and controversial marketing ploy that seems to have worked, guests were offered ticket categories ranging from $125 to $1,000 per person, with those in the upper two echelons provided seating in the posh and impossibly clever nightclub called Cafe des Artistes. Everyone shared, though, in such diversions as the Caribbean steel band that played at the entrance; the stilted virtuosos bashing gigantic beach balls back and forth over the crowd’s heads; the casino gambling at bizarre gaming tables crafted in Moss’ Dallas workshop (these strange if functional sculptures looked like something Picasso might have dreamed up during an afternoon nap following a too-lavish luncheon), and the irrepressible glee of pitching paint in The Paint Box.

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San Diego’s Fashion Police evidently were unaware of Art Quake, since had they been summoned to the premises, the attendance might have been decimated. The invitations mentioned that guests might at least consider the possibility of dressing a touch out of the ordinary, and many found it their duty to comply. Barbara ZoBell won top honors hands-down with an articulated, accordian-like tube dress that she described as “the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Topped with a exaggerated pie-man hat and garnished with iridescent green gloves, ZoBell’s smashing tribute to the event typified the zany mood of Art Quake. But there were plenty of others: Designer Carol Vidstrand embellished her roped red gown with pairs of jealous green eyes; Charmaine Kaplan topped her art-quality feathered bodice with makeup and hair streaked to resemble a bird of Paradise; artist Russell Forester wore shoes trimmed with tiny red lights; Dick Duffy had his face painted to resemble an as-yet-unencountered species of rain forest creature, and Patti Mix, who said that she was “your basic art tart tonight,” wore a rhinestoned black snake sculpture over a printed mini with matching bloomers. Yessiree bob, folks, this wasn’t your typical 7-to-11 gala.

Museum President Sue Edwards said that “a party like this is what the museum is all about;” museum director Hugh Davies offered an even briefer assessment and simply said, “I love it!” The party was also described as “the most visual ever,” and “fun and young.” These comments were replies to the decor, a gathering of wild sculptures lavished with primary-colored paints that ran to such extravagances as “Andy’s Arty Automat,” a wall of tiny boxes which guests opened to discover plates of caviar-stuffed potatoes, gourmet pizzas and racy desserts, and the “Pasta Palette” (which adjoined the “Al Dente Disco”), both surreal surroundings for munching and strutting one’s stuff.

The most elaborate milieu was the Cafe des Artists, or Sherwood Hall stripped of its theater seats and turned into an Andy Warhol-like vision of the old El Morocco. Mannequin torsos upholstered in what may have been London New Wave-style served as centerpieces; they were stunning, but not nearly so stunning as the floor shows put on by the band and dancing troupe headed by a Los Angeles entertainer named Valentino. The ensemble brought everything from Michael Jackson to the Cotton Club to the stage, and when Valentino tossed handfuls of glitter at the audience, he might as well have been sprinkling stardust. It was that kind of an evening.

The guests trickled out weary and late. Among them were Dallas’ Clint Murchison III; the Rea Axlines; the Art Rivkins; the Richard Levis; the Forrest Shumways; the Aage Frederiksens; the Cushmans; the Bill Larsons; the Roque de la Fuentes; the Irwin Jacobses; the Stan Fosters; the Jack Phelpses; the Sam Armstrongs; the Charles Arledges; the Don Allisons; the Richard Atkinsons, and actress Jane Withers, mother of party planner Wendy Moss.

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