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Artnet News
Nov. 20, 2009 

The Museum of Contemporary Art, L.A. needs a few home runs to put the spectacle of near-bankruptcy behind it, and it got one with its lavish "New 30th Anniversary Gala" on Nov. 14, 2009 -- although the art was eclipsed by a thick tide of celebrities, paparazzi and other silliness (then again, this is also the institution that opened a Louis Vuitton boutique in its space to showcase Takashi Murakami’s talents as a brand designer). Scads of media outlets were on hand, including Entertainment Tonight, to capture the esthetic opinions of the various celebs going inside. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were photographed getting their very own personalized tour of the collection from L.A. MoCA curator Paul Schimmel. The baffled art press, meanwhile, was treated to advance emails detailing the stars expected to show up at the party in Prada (Jessica Alba, Eva Mendes, Carey Mulligan, Christina Ricci, Chloe Sevigny and John Legend, if you’re keeping score).

The ostensible high point was a performance staged by Italian media artist and all-around Pied Piper Francesco Vezzoli, making use of the talents of pop-culture sensation Lady Gaga. Called Ballets Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again), the presentation involved the outlandishly dressed Gaga seated at a Damien Hirst-designed piano playing a new song -- the soon-to-be-released Speechless (now there’s marketing synergy!) -- as Vezzoli sat on the stage in a mask, sewing. Members of the Bolshoi Ballet danced on a catwalk. Speaking to the press, Lady Gaga described the performance as "a genuine unity and a back and forth," while Vezzoli declared that "my wish is that the entertainment industry makes love more often with the art industry."

For all of you who weren’t on the guest list, however -- never fear. As part of its continued fundraising efforts, L.A. MoCA is holding an online auction of the props associated with Ballets Russes Italian Style. The Hirst piano sold at the gala for $450,000, but still available are such delightful bibelots as Lady Gaga’s gown and shoes, designed  by Miuccia Prada (valued at $30,000 and awaiting a bid); Gaga’s shapeless leather and silk hat, fashioned by starchitect Frank Gehry (also valued at $30,000); and the masks worn by Gaga and Vezzoli, which were crafted by Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann and his production designer Catherine Martin (worth $5,000 each). Potential bidders can see the lots and buy (after registering) at

And what about the, you know, actual art at the hallowed institution? The exhibition, "Collection: MOCA’s First 30 Years," Nov. 15, 2009-May 3, 2010, surveys some 500 works from MOCA’s vaunted permanent collection, at both its Grand Avenue and Geffen Contemporary spaces (though only half of the latter is open, thanks to budget strictures). L.A. Times critic Christopher Knight thinks that the show represents a promising new beginning, noting that in organizing the show chronologically, curator Schimmel manages to pair the "postwar rise of American art. . . with the simultaneous rise of Los Angeles, from shallow backwater to cultural powerhouse." And as Knight points out, the "First 30 Years" title implies that a second 30 years is also planned.

The Whitney Museum of American Art has announced that Scott Rothkopf is joining the staff as curator, effective Dec. 1, 2009. The choice is surprising, though one in keeping with the freewheeling contemporary art world. Something of a wunderkind, Rothkopf has limited curatorial experience (and is still working on his Ph.D., on "the work of Jeff Koons and the art of the 1980s"). He was guest curator of a Mel Bochner show at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum, an exhibition that he put together as an undergraduate in 1999, and served as "contributing curator" for the 2007 Lyon Biennial, a task that had him select a single artist for the show, Wade Guyton. Rothkopf also co-curated (with Linda Norden) a successful production at the Fogg of a Pierre Huyghe installation and film, This Is Not a Time for Dreaming (2004).

Most interesting, in this corner at least, is Rothkopf’s move from art criticism to the museum world (another critic to make that career change was Robert Storr, though he also had extensive teaching experience). Rothkopf’s tenure at Artforum, according to Whitney chief curator Donna de Salvo, "positions him perfectly to work with some of the most important art and artists of both past and present." Rothkopf is also young (b. 1976), and offers a "fresh generational perspective," or so says Whitney director Adam Weinberg in the official announcement. Rothkopf previously worked at the Whitney as a summer intern when he was at Harvard.

In a second curatorial appointment, the Whitney named Dana Miller as curator of the permanent collection, a post that has been empty since De Salvo was named chief curator in 2006. The unheralded Miller has served as associate curator of the permanent collection for the last seven years, working on exhibitions of Buckminster Fuller, Claes Oldenburg and "Overhead/Underfoot: The Topographical Perspective in Photography," among others. The appointment holds promise: it’s Weinberg’s old job, too.

The Swiss Institute at 495 Broadway in Manhattan is hosting a special benefit art sale and party on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009, 6-10 pm, to raise funds for a girls’ school in Jaisalmer, India. The event features music by DJ Twig the Wonderkid and British fashion designer Keanan Duffy, and includes a range of original photographs for sale as well as tote bags designed by Maurizio Cattelan and "prop art" reproductions by Richard Phillips for the Gossip Girl television show. The benefit is organized by the student-run organization ARTribe in cooperation with a curatorial committee including Mari Spirito, Sylvia Chivaratanond and Lina Bertucci. Tickets to the benefit are $20; $10 for students. All proceeds go to CITTA.

On Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009, the Italian luxury fashion house Fendi at 677 Fifth Avenue hosted a launch party for the new catalogue raisonné of prints and multiples by California conceptualist John Baldessari. Baldessari: A Catalogue Raisonne of Prints and Multiples, 1971-2007 was penned by art advisor Sharon Coplan Hurowitz, a labor-of-love that has been ten years in the making. Now the definitive reference for the artist’s prints and multiples, the book includes an intro by Wendy Weitman, former chief curator of prints at the Museum of Modern Art.

Both Baldessari and the actual book were at the launch party in spirit only, though their absence didn’t slow things down much. A small selection of Baldessari prints were displayed among the pricey pumps and handbags. Music was courtesy DJ Mandy and jazz pianist Eric Lewis (otherwise known as Elew), performing for an audience that included Brooke Shields, H.R.H. Prince Pavlos of Greece and Fe Fendi. Art-world notables included Brooke Alexander, Jane Hammond, Kristin Hemming, Sarah Sze, Tracey Williams and collectors Richard and Barbara Lane.

The tome is published by Hudson Hills Press, and retails at $125.

-- Deborah Ripley

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