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The Vision Behind LACMA’s Galas


Collages by Seana Italia Redmond

By Stefano Tonchi

Los Angeles is the recognized movie capital of the world, but for decades it has been accused of being a one-industry town, where the only conversation and social interactions happen in the circles of the film and entertainment industry. Indeed, most of the social life of Los Angeles has revolved around the award events where that industry celebrates its leaders. The movie studio executives are usually seated at the tables with the producers, the directors and the actors of their movies, with few exceptions for unexpected guests like an esteemed fine artist or a power-brokering real estate mogul.

When in 1994 Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and film producer and businessman Steve Tisch took over the Oscar party of the famously bespectacled talent agent Swifty Lazar and brought it to Morton’s, they imported from the East Coast the taste for mixing the guest invitations. Carter recast what had been just a TV-watching dinner and post-Oscar private celebration into a new kind of event, the showcase for what Tina Brown had already called the New Society, a glamourous mix where old and new Hollywood collided with the worlds of sports, music, art, culture and politics—think Meryl Streep, Madonna and Monica Lewinsky at the same table with Jeff Koons and Dennis Hopper. Not only the very rich and the very famous but also the artists with their muses, the fashion designers with their models—with major advertisers in tow—the social writers, the paparazzo and a good portion of the international Best Dressed List. Suddenly, the VF Oscar Party evolved into a West Coast version of a Studio 54 party! 

Chairs: Leonardo DiCaprio, Eva Chow LACMA Director: Michael Govan 2011 Honorees: Clint Eastwood, John Baldessari Performer: Stevie Wonder Notable Guests: Kate Hudson , Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Kate Beckinsale, Amy Poehler 2012 Honorees: Ed Ruscha, Stanley Kubrick Performer: Florence + The Machine Notable Guests: Jennifer Aniston, Jane Fonda, Anette Benning, Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Robert Pattinson, Florence Welch, Justin Timberlake, Anna Wintour 2013 Honorees: Martin Scorsese, David Hockney Performer: Sting
Notable Guests: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Frida Giannini , Zoe Saldana, Olivia Wilde, Agnes Varda, Dasha Zhukova, Amber Valletta , Nicole Richie 2014 Honorees: Barbara Kruger,
Quentin Tarantino Performer: Culture Club Notable Guests: Salma Hayek Pinault, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Will FerrEll, Jamie Foxx, Amber Valletta, Amy Poehler, Eileen Norton, Mark Bradford, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, Liberty Ross, Zoe Saldana, Danna Ruscha, Ed Ruscha, Frank Gehry, Berta Aguilera.

Los Angeles has always been a fertile ground for artists, and much of today’s contemporary art came out of L.A. schools and studios. But the art market and the art centers and institutions were in New York and London and even, for one week every year during Art Basel, in Miami. By the new millennium, however, all that was radically changing with the coming together of a new generation of L.A. artists. MOCA was establishing downtown as an important national contemporary art destination, and that would later be reinforced by the opening of the Broad in 2015. The scene was being transformed by the commitment of mega-collectors like Eli Broad and the Marciano brothers, the opening of art galleries and the arrival of star directors and curators at the Hammer, MOCA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Michael Govan, fresh off the success of building a small private institution in New York City into the Dia Art Foundation phenomenon, arrived to take on leadership of LACMA with the visionary mission of transforming it into one of the leading museums in the world. He did not know he also had to transform Los Angeles society and bring together the creative communities of art and cinema like never before. “L.A. had more artists and more film directors than any city in America,” he said he recalled thinking at the time, “But they never mixed and came together. Things had to change.”

2015 Honorees: James Turell, Alejandro G. Iñárritu Performer: Joe Walsh Notable Guests: Alfonso CuarÓn, Kim Kardashian, Naomi Campbell, Reese Witherspoon, Dakota Johnson 2016 Honorees: Robert Irwin, Kathryn Bigelow Performer: Børns Notable Guests: KathErine Ross, Alexa Chung, Zoe Saldana, Jaden Smith, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Catherine Opie, Inez Van lamsweerde, Vinoodh Matadin, Claire Danes, Alessandra Ambrosio, Melanie Griffith, A$AP Rocky, Asia Chow, Alessandra Ambrosio, Courtney Love, Jonathan Leibson, Francois-Henri Pinault, Bradley Cooper

2017 Honorees: Mark Bradford, George Lucas Performer: Annie Lennox Notable Guests: Usher, Petra Collins, TimothÉe Chalamet, Bradford Campbell, Naomi Campbell. 2018 Honorees: Catherine Opie, Guillermo Del Toro Performer: Beck Notable Guests: Will Ferrell, Viveca Paulin-Ferrell, Mary Weatherford, Bettina Korek, Lana Del Rey, Alfonso Cuarón, Zoe Kravitz 2019 Honorees: Betye Saar, Alfonso Cuarón Performer: Anderson .Paak Notable Guests: Jeremy Pope, Cynthia Erivo, Ava DuVernay, Guillermo del Toro, Alessandro Michele, Jared Leto, Jon Hamm, Naomi Campbell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian, Lee Daniels, Kiki Layne, Tyler the Creator, Donald Glover, Salma Hayek-Pinault, Usher, Billie Eilish, Laura Dern, Greta Gerwig, Reese Witherspoon , Amandla Stenberg, Lana Del Rey.

In 2011 the Art+Film Gala was born out of a simple idea, borrowed from Govan’s days working on Dia galas: Honor two artists from diverse backgrounds—a visual artist and a filmmaker—and bring together two very different audiences.  This was not only an important fundraising initiative but also a way to return the presence of cinema to the museum after Govan had made the controversial decision to cut the old film program. It was the best way to celebrate a new series of large exhibitions focused on the work of major directors, from Tim Burton to Stanley Kubrick and Guillermo del Toro.

Govan likes to give credit for bringing the idea to fruition to LACMA board chair Terry Semel, board member Eva Chow and his friend and collector Leonardo DiCaprio. He recalls a conversation with DiCaprio during a car ride in Paris after a visit to the Cinémathèque when he realized that an event like Art+Film Gala was possible and that Leo would be instrumental as one of its chairs. “Start from the top” he says DiCaprio told him, “and the others will follow.” And Govan credits event chair and social powerhouse Eva Chow for introducing the project to the team at fashion giant Gucci during a trip to New York.  Indeed, Art+Film was launched in partnership with Gucci of the Kering Group, which is part of the Artemis empire of the Pinault family, great collectors with private museums in Venice and Paris and majority shareholders of the CAA talent agency. No doubt, it helped that Selma Hayek, wife of Francoise-Henry Pinault, had her career in Hollywood and believed in the project.

The beginnings were not easy. There was no precedent for such an event without much support from the studio system, and Los Angeles artists were suspicious of the entertainment industry, which was not known for supporting artists and art institutions. At the first Gala in November 2011, everyone had their eyes on the cinema honoree, actor and director Clint Eastwood, but few were familiar with the art honoree, the great John Baldessari—who had just created the new LACMA logo!—before a superlative and hilarious short by by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman introduced him and established films as a surprising signature of the evening.  Most of the photographers and the press focused on the Hollywood crowd, overlooking major artists and cultural presences whose faces were not on the glossy pages. 

2021 Honorees: Amy Sherald, Kehinde Wiley, Steven Spielberg Performer: Celeste Notable Guests: Chris Martin, Judd Apatow, Serena Williams, Dakota Johnson, Phoebe Bridgers, Paul Mescal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Eva Longoria, Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde, Mikalene Thomas, Racquel Chevremont, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jeremy Pope, Cynthia Erivo, Ava DuVernay, Paris HIlton, Kathy Hilton, Salma Hayek-Pinault, Jared Leto, Awkwafina, Anderson .Paak, Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Eric Nam, Jimmy Iovine, Liberty Ross, Florence Welch, Sinéad Burke, Miley Cyrus, Dakota Fanning, Hailey Bieber, Camilla Morrone, Kendall Jenner

2022 Honorees: Helen Pashgian, Park Chan-wook Performer: Elton John Notable Guests: Thuso Mbedu, Jodie Turner-smith, KathErine Ross, Marco Bizzari, Lindsey Vonn, Alison Saar, Betye Saar, Jude Law, Chloé Zhao, Kendall Jenner, Asia Chow, Olivia Wilde, Julia Garner, Salma Hayek-Pinault. 2023 Honorees: Judy Baca, David Fincher Performer: Lenny Kravitz Notable Guests: Ed Ruscha, ANTWAUN SARGENT, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Ke Huy Quan, Kim Kardashian, Jon Hamm, James Goldstein, Jennifer Lopez, Lee Jung-jae, Lily Gladstone, Greta Lee, Lauren Halsey, A$AP Rocky, Jean-Francois Palus, FranÇois-Henri Pinault, Salma Hayek-Pinault, Sofia Boutella, Andrew Garfield, Shio Kusaka, Jonas Wood, Julia Garner, Florence Welch, Laura Harrier, Ke Huy Kuan, Lupita Nyong’o, Halle Bailey, DDG, Asia Chow, Olivia Wilde, Salma Hayek-Pinault, Teo Yoo, Nikki S. Lee, Sabato de Sarno, Billie Eilish, Daniele Calisti. Courtesy of LACMA

More than 12 years later, though, many things have changed and LACMA’s original enthusiasm has morphed into a professional machine producing a financially successful and publicity-producing evening. Artists are now at the center of the scene, dressed head to toe in the best fashion, proudly posing for pictures with the Hollywood stars. As Katherine Ross, former publicist and Govan’s wife who has worked at the making of the night from its inception, likes to say, “It is always a pleasure to watch the art world dressing up and adopting fashion styles to their own personal taste.” In fact, through the years, fashion has become an important part of entertainment, thanks to the complicity of Gucci designers Frida Giannini and Alessandro Michele and their favorite talent: Jared Leto, Jessica Chastain, Florence Welch (of Florence + the Machine) are unforgettable in their eclectic Gucci extravagance.  

But before the red carpet and the circus of celebrities, it is the list of the honored artists and film directors that gives a sense of the relevance and historical importance of this event: Ed Ruscha and Stanley Kubrick; Martin Scorsese and David Hockney; Barbara Kruger and Quentin Tarantino; James Turrell and Alejandro Iñárritu; Robert Irwin and Kathryn Bigelow; Mark Bradford and George Lucas; Catherine Opie and Guillermo del Toro; Betye Saar and Alfonso Cuarón; Amy Sherald, Kehinde Wiley and Steven Spielberg (a rare year in which two fine artists were honored); Helen Pashgian and Park Chan-wook; and Judy Baca and David Fincher. They are the Who’s Who of the two creative communities, each one a master presented by an equally talented celebrity and introduced with an original short film that often deserves its own award. At each of the 12 Art+Film galas since inception, every artist and director has given an unforgettable and moving speech, making clear their shared passion and love for making art and movies. As a final act before the lights go off, every gala has played host to music performances by the likes of Steve Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, Elton John, Annie Lennox, Boy George and Sting.

The time was right for the Art+Film Gala and a new type of social gathering in L. A.: International galleries have been opening their doors all over the city, in 2019 the Art Fair Frieze arrived from London, private collectors have multiplied, artists that left are returning, and new generations of young talent are coming up in L.A. art schools. Major investments continue to pour into original social and cultural programs and new museum buildings—most importantly, the state-of-the-art rebuilding of LACMA by architect Peter Zumthor. 

Finally, thanks to the vision of LACMA, Los Angeles has become a city of culture and not only of dreams.



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