Giddyup! Doug Aitken’s MOCA Gala Raises $3.2 Million

(Photos: Getty Images)

Doug Aitken knows how to throw a party—although he prefers the term “cultural ambush.” The artist envisioned Saturday’s gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, which added approximately $3.2 million to the 31-year-old institution’s coffers. Dubbed “The Artist’s Museum Happening,” the bash included everything from a band of acoustic drummers and a ceiling-mounted light sculpture by architect Barbara Bestor to oven-roasted grapes and Jennifer Love Hewitt (who we like to imagine making small talk with some of the other approximately 900 guests, such as Frank Gehry and Chris Burden). MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch praised Aitken’s “extraordinary vision which brought together the worlds of art, design, Hollywood, and music in support of MOCA,” while Eli Broad, the museum’s founding chairman, was even more effusive. “The Artist’s Museum Happening has redefined museum galas,” he said.

Aitken took a cue from MOCA’s current exhibition featuring the work of 146 L.A. artists and went western for “WE,” an evening-long experiential artwork. Dramatic drumming welcomed guests into the gala’s tent, which featured interior walls covered in specially commissioned posters by artists such as John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, and Raymond Pettibon. Then came a series of linked performances by a string quartet, Devendra Banhart, Beck, and Caetano Veloso, with each singer featured in turn as accompanist and lead vocalist. After guests had polished off their mesquite-grilled, open-pasture-fed rib eye steaks and organic vegetables came more Aitken touches, including six rural farm auctioneers, the Los Angeles Gospel Choir, and a cattle whip performer (pictured above). Guests left with a copy of The Idea of the West, Aitken’s new artist’s book, and the taste of chunky almond-cornmeal butter cookies still fresh on their tongues.