Alejandro Iñarritu accepts LACMA honors, adds politics to pomp of gala

Art-world stars and Hollywood celebrities came together Saturday night for the fifth annual Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Art + Film Gala, co-chaired by Leonardo DiCaprio and Eva Chow.

Art-world stars and Hollywood celebrities came together Saturday night for the fifth annual Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Film Gala, co-chaired by Leonardo DiCaprio and Eva Chow.

(Jessica Gelt)

Following a gracious introduction by Leonardo DiCaprio, Mexican film director Alejandro G. Iñarritu said Saturday night he was accepting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s annual Art + Film gala honors on behalf of all Mexicans.

“Cinema is a bridge between the others and us,” Inarritu said. “Unfortunately, there are currently people proposing we build walls instead of bridges.”

Inarritu said he contemplated whether to bring up contentious politics at this celebratory occasion, but he decided it was imperative -- perhaps because on the same night, presidential contender and would-be border-wall builder Donald Trump was hosting “Saturday Night Live” in New York.

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Such ideas, Inarritu said, would be unacceptable if they targeted any other ethnic group. They might make for a funny “SNL” skit, he said, but “the words that have been expressed are not a joke. Words have real power.”

Inarritu’s comments, which included the suggestion that immigrants be called “undocumented dreamers” instead of “undocumented workers,” met with a standing ovation.

Hollywood, which is alternately cheered and jeered for its liberal leanings, was soundly represented at the gala, which also honored celebrated light and space artist James Turrell. DiCaprio and Eva Chow were co-chairs of the event, and Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jared Leto, Joshua Jackson and Salma Hayek mingled with luminaries from the L.A. art world, including John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, Barbara Kruger, Doug Aitken and Broad museum director Joanne Heyler.

The annual fundraising gala, now in its fifth year, aims to remind two spheres of cultural influence in Los Angeles how much they have in common.


“Film is art,” said LACMA’s director of major gifts, Alison Edelstein, over a Patina-catered dinner of foraged mushroom empanadas, “forbidden” black rice and mezcal-marinated hangar steak. Even the tequila on each table had a Hollywood pedigree: It was sponsored by George Clooney and Randy Gerber’s brand, Casamigos.

Edelstein said that the gala, which had tickets starting at $5,000, had raised more than $4 million for the museum.

More important than the money, Turrell said, was the idea that L.A. is being taken seriously in the art world.


“I’m not LACMA-intolerant anymore,” the 72-year-old artist joked before dinner while severs circulated with trays of pink Champagne and canapes.

“Its relationships with artists from the ‘60s to now have completely changed,” Turrell said. “Its involvement is much greater.” He credited LACMA Chief Executive Michael Govan and his staff.

LACMA and L.A. are “exploding” in terms of influence, Turrell said, which dovetails with a civic desire to become more of a cultural center.

“I couldn’t wait, so 40 years ago in ’74, I left,” the artist said. “But, it’s become that without me being here, so there you are.”


Govan still regards Turrell as an Angeleno and said that the gala strives to honor artists and filmmakers from the City of Angels.

“We’ve been trying to celebrate what’s here in L.A., so you only have to go five blocks to find your honoree, and that’s been a bit of the message,” Govan said before dinner.

One of the evening’s surprises came when it was revealed that the musical guest, Sam Smith, had canceled at the last minute because of sickness.

“The cool thing about L.A. is that you can make a call to a friend,” Govan announced. “So I called T. Bone Burnett.”


Burnett, it seemed, called Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh.

“Life’s been good to me so far,” Walsh sang as Edelstein said that Turrell’s favorite band is the Eagles.

Sometimes in life, as in art, things just work out.

Twitter: @jessicagelt