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R.S.V.P. : Museums Throw a Party for Cocteau’s Centenary

These days every artist is into diversification: Musicians make movies, opera stars appear in romantic comedies and painters open up shops to sell cheap knockoffs of their own work.

But earlier in the 20th Century, before the term multimedia had been coined, Jean Cocteau established himself as the enfant terrible of the French art community by painting, designing posters, sculpting, writing poetry and novels, collaborating on an opera with Stravinsky and a ballet with Diaghilev, and filming his now classic retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Cocteau would have been 100 years old Wednesday, and he received a birthday party that night, courtesy of the Severin Wunderman Museum of Irvine, holder of the world’s largest collection of Cocteau works outside of France. The centenary of his birth, and the concurrent retrospective exhibition of Cocteau works, was held at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, with a small private reception at 6 p.m. (The museum invited everyone on its mailing list to help celebrate after 8 o’clock.)

Guests arrived at the Frank Gehry-designed outdoor pavilion wearing everything from stylish European suits to Bermuda shorts. One art lover wore a leopard skin rubber-band top over a bare midriff, accenting it with a micro mini skirt, white hose and white go-go boots.

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Wunderman Museum executive director Tony Clark brought the show together with an eye toward representing all the media in which the prolific artist worked, including drawings, sculpture, pottery, paintings and a magnificent tapestry depicting Judith and Holofernes.

“It’s a total retrospective, covering the artist’s years between 1909 to 1963,” Clark said. “And we’ve got almost all the media in which Cocteau worked--except for things like sugar cubes, which have long since disintegrated.”

The reception was decidedly informal, from the freewheeling dress code to the number of babies being pushed through the exhibit in strollers. A springer spaniel wandered around; some volunteers were almost ready to deposit the animal on the street when a woman walked up. “That’s Lucy,” the dog’s owner said. “And she’s a member of the museum.”

On hand were Severin Wunderman, manufacturer of Gucci watches and founder of the Wunderman Museum; Abby Sher, representing the Santa Monica Museum; the new French Consul General Gerard Coste; actor Ian Abercrombie, who recently portrayed Cocteau on stage in Los Angeles; Santa Monica art collectors Peter and Eileen Norton, and Michael York.

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York was cited by Clark for his “outstanding style and artistic prowess” and presented with the Paul Masson international style award. York, who demonstrated his outstanding style by not wearing Bermuda shorts or a leopard-skin top, made a gracious speech, and then the gates were open for the second round of guests.


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