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After months of uncertainty, discord and upheaval, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) has finally stepped into a new epoch. It was clearly evident during its 35th Anniversary Gala on Saturday, March 29, an event that also marked the debut of new Director Philippe Vergne. Considered to be one of the most elegant affairs in Los Angeles, this classic evening kicked off the highly anticipated Mike Kelley retrospective.
“Mike Kelley, in many ways, represents what MOCA stands for: experimentation, innovation, pushing the limits,” exclaimed Vergne, having just arrived at the museum three weeks prior. “As the new director, to have this as the first exhibition sets the tone: for me, for the program I want to do, for the museum, and for the gala tonight. There are 800 people here to celebrate 35 years of MOCA, but also 35 years of MOCA with Mike Kelley as he was in the museum’s first exhibition.”
“You gave us our museum back,” expressed Lilly Tartikoff Karatz to Vergne during her speech. She, along with Eli Broad and Maurice Marciano served as this year’s gala chairs. Marciano then announced he would match the 1.2 million raised that night to create a program for young, emerging artists. He then challenged the crowd to double its recent, unprecedented 100 million dollar endowment to 200 million.
The sit-down dinner had a casual atmosphere where one could intermingle with the likes of Jane Fonda, Pharrell Williams, John Baldessarri, Chloë Sevigny, Werner Herzog, Owen Wilson, Kim Gordan, Ed Moses, Katy Perry, Kenneth Anger, Moby, Doug Aiken, Dita Von Teese, Barbara Kruger, Fred Armisen, Catherine Opie, Gia Coppola, Chris Burden, Patricia Arquette, Shepard Fairey, and Mayor Eric Garcetti to name a few.
“It was incredibly gratifying to have everyone here supporting the museum and looking at Mike’s work,” said curator Bennett Simpson. “This museum has grown up around Mike Kelley…we have the most extensive collection of his work than any museum in the world. He’s one of a small handful of artists that are really integral to this place.”
“It sets the bar high for MOCA and Los Angeles,” stated Mary Clare Stevens, Executive Director of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. “Kelley’s work is deeply complex and challenging. It doesn’t let you off easy: intellectually rigorous, brave, beautiful, and critical, these are the qualities that we look for in great artists and museums.”
Once Detroit-native Diana Ross took the stage, the crowd was elated. Her performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” symbolized the rebirth of MOCA. No one that night shied away from its recent past–including the awkward departure of former Director Jeffrey Deitch–but rather addressed it head on with no blame. There was, though, also a tinge of sadness that the late artist Mike Kelley was not there to enjoy it.
“I think it actually is, in a lot of ways, a homecoming for him and for his work,” said visual and sound artist Scott Benzel, a long-time collaborator of Kelley’s.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” continued Stevens. “This was a quarter, if that, of his whole life’s production. He was so young when he passed away. He had a lot more in him too. Before this retrospective, I hadn’t seen most of this work in-person. It really does embody his energy and spirit.”
The Mike Kelley retrospective is on view through July 28, 2014 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA and MOCA Grand Ave.