“Everybody dances fearlessly & without judgement,” the invite promised. And it was right.
Welcome back to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual gala, which took place Saturday night for the first time since 2019 after a three-year pandemic hiatus.
Artists and celebrities, museum leaders and other art world figures — including Eva Longoria, Christina Hendricks, Gia Coppola, Keanu Reeves and artists Karon Davis, Lauren Halsey, Mary Weatherford, Alexandra Grant, Henry Taylor, Mark Grotjahn and Doug Aitken — mingled at a pre-dinner cocktail party on the outdoor plaza of the museum’s Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo.
Noticeably missing? The standard tuxedo and black gown.
Instead, the evening — which marked the closing of the museum’s vivid, immersive, multimedia exhibition “Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor” on June 6 — was a kaleidoscopic blitz of fashion technicolor. The cheery orange pantsuits (yes, there were more than one), pink ruffled tuxedos (also multiples) and flowing fuchsia capes (okay, one) — even the yellow and pink-hued cocktails — seemed in conversation with the Swiss media artist’s glowing light installations and psychedelic video art. The invitation had encouraged colorful dress, after all.
But the evening’s bright color palette had additional significance. It festively marked the arrival of MOCA’s new director, Johanna Burton, the museum’s first-ever female leader. Not to mention a hopeful look forward at exhibitions and overall momentum to come, Burton said at the cocktail party.
“We’re celebrating the close of Pipi’s show and the impact of that show,” said Burton, who was wearing a rainbow-hued, sequined Gucci gown. “But also looking forward to the fall shows, which are all L.A.-based artists. This is a moment for us to reflect on the legacy of the institution and think about its future.”
The gala’s sensory pleasures were audible as well. During dinner, Rist — wearing what looked to be loose, floral pajamas, purple lipstick and rose eyeglasses — addressed the crowd, encouraging guests to join her in a round of communal humming. The exercise was part of a new, interactive “happening” (as opposed to a performance) called “Humming Neighbors” — neighbors being the operative word.
“Tonight we are one family,” Rist told the crowd, “and this is our collective dining room.”
Around the room, attendees — bathed in the glow of multicolored LED tube lights serving as table centerpieces — lowered their heads or closed their eyes and a meditative chorus of varying-toned humming filled the space.
The MOCA Gala is the museum’s biggest annual fundraiser, and this year raised more than $2.9 million, the museum said. Proceeds support exhibitions, educational initiatives and other programming.
After a post-dinner performance by musical guest Chance the Rapper, attendees flowed outside to the plaza for espresso martinis, a panoply of desserts and a Rist-designed dance party, to which members of the public had purchased tickets.
Rist downplayed her involvement in planning the dance party. She had only one caveat, she told us after dinner: “No hard rock. I told the DJ electronica and funk and soul.”
She surveyed the room through dark purple sunglasses.
“This is such a great crowd,” she said. “In the wildest city in the world. All supporting the arts. It can’t get any better.”
At which point the crowd danced until midnight under a cluster of sparkling disco balls. Fearlessly, for sure. Without judgement? Well, this is the art world, after all.
One thing is certain, though: it was a party to be remembered, a colorful picture of a museum fully reawakening and an art community reconnecting.