An injured Ed Moses is present ‘in spirit’ at his 90th birthday dinner

Celebrating Ed Moses' birthday at William Turner Gallery on Thursday were, from left, Tony Berlant, Pietro Alexander, his father Peter Alexander, seated, Charles Arnoldi and Billy Al Bengston.

Celebrating Ed Moses’ birthday at William Turner Gallery on Thursday were, from left, Tony Berlant, Pietro Alexander, his father Peter Alexander, seated, Charles Arnoldi and Billy Al Bengston.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Ed Moses’ 90th birthday dinner, a private party for close friends and family at the William Turner Gallery on Thursday night, was a festive affair -- though one tinged with concern: Moses himself was missing.

The artist fell in his living room a few days earlier and injured his leg. His son Andy, a painter who also shows at the gallery, said his father is expected to be released from Cedars Sinai Medical Center on Saturday.

Still, the tone of the evening was upbeat. More than 50 years of the artist’s abstract paintings and works on paper livened the gallery’s walls as his friends, some going back six decades, mingled over cocktails and affectionately ribbed one another.


“How long have we been friends, now?” Robert Wilhite asked Tony Berlant, clinking the ice in his drink.

“Oh, looong time!” Berlant said, rolling his eyes in an exaggerated manner.

Among those present were Moses’ wife, Avilda, and sons Cedd and Andy. Art world figures included Richard Koshalek, who was director of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art during the Moses retrospective in 1996, as well as L.A. County Museum of Art curator Leslie Jones and collector Dallas Price-Van Breda. Moses’ Ferus Gallery contemporary from the ’50s, Billy Al Bengston, was there with longtime artist pals including Peter Alexander, Charles Arnoldi, Laddie John Dill, Peter Shelton and Doug Wheeler, the last of whom flew in from Santa Fe, N.M.

“What’s miraculous to me is the sheer volume of works he’s produced since the ‘70s, the variety and the experimentation,” Andy Moses said. A survey show exhibiting many of these works opens Saturday.

Berlant said he met Moses in 1963 at Berlant’s graduate art show at UCLA. “He looked around and said this was better than the [stuff] he was doing, and that was the start of the friendship. But that’s Ed -- he’s such a force. He’s also such a champion of other artists.”

Bengston, who met Moses in 1958 at Ferus, recalled the crew’s gallery openings in the ‘60s. “There was a gallon of wine, people got into fights -- it was fun,” he joked, wearing a bright Hawaiian print shirt and straw hat. “We had some raucous times.” About Moses’ exhibition, he added: “It’s fantastic, just glorious -- well done. But now I’m going home to bed!”

Alexander echoed Bengston’s sentiments about the rollicking early days, but said it was complemented by artistic support.


“We were this group that used to feed off each other, Billy, Larry [Bell], Craig [Kauffman] and Ed, who brought in Frank Gehry. Someone would do something and you’d look at it and go ‘Whoa! That’s pretty good.’ Then: ‘I can do better than that!’”

The jovial competition spurred the artists on, Alexander said. And Moses influenced him personally, as well. “Just his lifestyle -- he’s Ed,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t describe it, wouldn’t want to -- but it was unique, all his own.”

Later in the evening, William Turner addressed the crowd over a candlelight dinner in the former Santa Monica Museum of Art space. Moses’ works flanked the tables: His vibrant ‘70s color block paintings and more recent Navajo blanket-inspired paintings on one side of the room, his black lava paintings from the early 2000s and recent craquelure paintings on the other.

“Installing an exhibit with Ed is a special process,” Turner said of the still-prolific Moses. “Yesterday Ed called and said: ‘I’m sending my guys over with 25 new paintings!’ And we figured out a way to show some of them. You can’t approach Ed with a set idea in mind. You have to get in the flow, be in the moment -- like he is.”

Then Turner raised his glass, toasting the works on display and wishing Moses a swift recovery.

“To Ed!” he said. “You’re here in spirit because we’re surrounded by your work.”

“To Ed!” roared the crowd, glasses raised in the air.


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