Social justice was a theme right from the onset at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s gala Saturday night honoring artist Mark Bradford and filmmaker George Lucas.
It started at the cocktail hour. On one side of the red carpet, guests filed in to a manicured garden area lined with rosebushes, their gowns sweeping the velvety grass and their silhouettes awash in the glow from part of artist Robert Irwin’s “Primal Palm Garden.” Waiters served trays of pink champagne. On the other side of the red carpet, across 6th Street, protesters representing UCLA workers marched up and down the sidewalk.
The social justice spirit was most evident, however, in the selection of the annual Art + Film Gala’s honorees. Bradford’s work addresses a range of sociopolitical issues as well as art history. Lucas’ Museum of Narrative Art, set to break ground in Exposition Park in January, he said, promises to bring jobs to the area and make art accessible to young people of diverse backgrounds.
“The secret,” Lucas said during the cocktail party, “is you gotta give kids inspiration and make them realize they can have a world that isn’t the one that they know, which is pretty narrow, but one that they can expand and fantasize and imagine — which is kinda what I did with ‘Star Wars.’ And it opens their minds up.”
Lucas’ wife, Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson, will serve as the museum’s board chair.
“We really want to take a page out of LACMA’s book in terms of how accessible they’ve made their museum,” she said. “People from all walks of life — age, race, everything — coming to learn and enjoy it. That, to me, is the ultimate success.”
In conjunction with the gala, Bradford created a three-panel painting, “150 Portrait Tone,” which hangs in LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion. The work is based on the July 2016 police shooting of elementary school worker Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minn. Bradford’s solo exhibition, “Pickett’s Charge,” depicting a final moment in the Battle of Gettysburg, opens at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
“I just think it’s so amazing Mark’s being honored tonight, not only for his work as an artist but also for his generosity toward the neighborhood he spent so much time in growing up,” said Naima Keith, deputy director and chief curator of the California African American Museum in Exposition Park. With his gallery and social services organization Art + Practice in Leimert Park, she said, “Mark has just given so much to the city. Not all artists take that leap toward community engagement.”
Bradford was more understated: “I’m just in a really creative good place and I just go with it.”
Soon the roar of conversation and table hopping filled the translucent dinner tent as Patina catered a meal of butternut squash agnolotti and chicken Milanese. The more than 600 dinner guests included Brad Pitt, Jane Fonda, Kerry Washington and Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
Actress Hari Nef, in a red-and-white Gucci gown, huddled with actresses Selma Hayek and Rowan Blanchard, posing for a ring of photographers.
“Here we are at this rarefied gala, we need to keep these things in mind,” Nef said earlier of the social justice theme of the evening. “We need to honor the work and honor who’s here, and we need to pay attention to the people who are trying to speak truth to power right outside our doors. Art is certainly a vehicle for that.”
Hayek, in a sparkly aqua gown by event sponsor Gucci, gushed over Bradford.
“He’s one of my favorite artists and personally, he’s such a lovely, lovely, lovely man,” she said. “I am so happy he’s being honored. And George Lucas, he’s a legend! Only at this event could you imagine these two completely different people being honored!”
That was the point, said LACMA Director Michael Govan. The event had raised nearly $4.5 million for the museum. But the evening, he said, was not only about fundraising.
“We wanted to connect these two, Art + Practice and this big museum in South L.A.,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, UCLA service and hospital workers who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union tried to steer some of the focus to the Westside by protesting the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s treatment of contract valet workers.
“More than 40 immigrant service workers have lost their jobs,” union organizer Paul Waters-Smith said. “David Geffen is the most prominent backer to UCLA Health. He can, with a phone call, make it right.”
Geffen attended the gala but was not available for comment.
Back inside the event, as the night wound to a close, Annie Lennox sang “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” from behind a grand piano as digital fireworks exploded on a screen behind her.
“I travel the world and the seven seas. Everybody's looking for something,” she sang.
Then: “Hold your head up. Keep your head up, movin' on. Hold your head up, movin' on.”
And then the guests filed out into the garden and dispersed into the late-night city streets.