As the night’s first honoree at the Hammer Museum’s Gala in the Garden, Jordan Peele said his passion for filmmaking was less about making a commentary on society and more about eliciting a laugh or a scream from the audience.
“Any audible noise that an audience can make, that’s my passion,” said the actor-comedian and Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Get Out.”
He had already proved his point by getting laughs from the audience immediately after stepping onto the stage and joking that he expected a physical award, “something that had, like a base, gold — you know, a piece of art or something on top … to put on your desk — [looking] like a hammer.”
Peele then followed his joking by calling the evening “truly wonderful and surreal” and thanking the museum “for hosting this great event and doing such important work for the art community and for Los Angeles.”
The Hammer Museum honored Peele, along with groundbreaking artist Judy Chicago, at the Saturday affair, which raised a record $2.7 million and featured a performance by seven-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Beck and a surprise appearance by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Author Roxane Gay and feminist icon Gloria Steinem respectively introduced Chicago and Peele.
In a conversation during the cocktail reception, Jane Lynch said, “This is probably my fifth or sixth year here. I love this museum and I love this event.” The five-time Emmy-winning actress then noted that she was wearing the same Alexander McQueen pantsuit she wore when she won her 2019 award for guest actress in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Other gala guests caught up over cocktails not only along the upper balconies of the museum but also in the galleries where “Bigger” actress Tanisha Long perused the museum’s newest exhibition, “Declaration of Independence,” from artist Lari Pittman. “I’m excited to be here to see the art,” Long said.
Filmmaker J.J. Abrams and wife Katie McGrath (who run Santa Monica production company Bad Robot), along with fashion designer Tom Ford and husband Richard Buckley, served as gala co-chairs for the gathering of actors, artists, collectors, filmmakers and museum supporters.
Those in attendance included artists Pittman, Max Hooper Schneider, Larry Bell, Barbara Kruger, Lauren Halsey, Glenn Kaino, Charles Gaines, Julie Mehretu, Llyn Foulkes and Kenny Scharf; actors Joel McHale, Rita Wilson, Annabeth Gish, Catherine O’Hara, Philicia Saunders, Lynch and Long; Universal Pictures chair Donna Langley, NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer and Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum.
“I travel a lot, and I find myself often in wooded places, surrounded by wealthy white people,” Gay said jokingly after ascending the stage to introduce Peele. “During such trips, one or more of my friends will inevitably send me a text message with a sincere warning, ‘Don’t let them do to you like they did in “Get Out’ — and nothing more needs to be said.” Then she said, “That is the power of Jordan’s work. He has made the ‘sunken place’ ... part of our cultural vernacular.”
She then praised Peele for his elegance, humor, razor-sharp dry wit, staggering intellect and uncanny understanding of the human condition. “He has carved a path for a different kind of black storytelling that goes beyond the tropes to which we have all too often been relegated,” she said.
For his part, Peele said, “I feel particularly humbled to receive such an honor so early in my film career. I know this is an institution that’s honored artists whose incredible work elevates the discourse of our time, artists whose work is brilliant, beautiful, eternal, nuanced.” Then he jokingly spoke of his own movies — “about brain transplantations” (“Get Out”) and “clones living underground with rabbits” (“Us”).
“So you can see how this is an unexpected turn of events to be here,” he said.
After dinner, Steinem said of Chicago, “You can pretty much divide the world, the art world, and certainly you can divide my life into before and after Judy Chicago.”
Steinem then recalled her encounter with the artist’s work in 1972, when “art was a lonely and isolated endeavor and not a communal creation, and it was kept in museums and galleries and seemed to be more about privilege than about community. Judy Chicago was the person who up-ended all of that.”
Then before closing, Steinem said, “We share a common humanity that needn’t be divided by gender or by race. We invented gender. We invented race. We can dis-invent it. In restoring our wholeness, Judy is restoring our humanity.”
Chicago then told her story by saying, “After I graduated [from college], I began to try and make a place for myself in the L.A. arts scene, which was singularly inhospitable to women. As a result, I had a pretty tough time.” She said resistance to her work began in graduate school. “My painting instructors hated my work,” she said.
Although there are more exhibitions by female artists today, Chicago said, “The truth is that history is not determined by exhibitions,” calling the percentages of acquisitions at major museums of works by female artists, and especially by female artists of color, shameful.
She closed by thanking the people who supported her over the years by saying, “I stand here tonight, bathed in the light of this somewhat unfamiliar recognition. What is important about my story is that it tells us that one person can make a difference — something really important to remember in these difficult times.”
Tickets for the 500 people began at $2,500 each, with tables ranging upward to $100,000.