Right now, Swiss artist Urs Fischer's Skinny Afternoon, a life-size sculpture of a skeleton bending over to get close to a mirror, is installed in the courtyard above MOCA's Grand Avenue building. The mirror, permanently fogged where the skeleton's mouth nearly touches it, is attached to a dresser with ill-fitted drawers half falling out. All of this sits on top of an awkwardly shaped patch of sod. People who chose to stand near that sod Saturday night, during the early stages of MOCA's 2013 Gala, a semi-annual fundraiser where guest and sponsors pay for tables, had an ideal view.
They could lean over the railing that separates the courtyard from the two-story drop down to the museum's entrance and see cars arriving-the far right lane of Grand Avenue had been closed to better accommodate valeting. They could see guests going to the check-in table to receive an itinerary for the evening from a group of staff members wearing lab coats and Einstein-inspired mad scientist wigs.
They could also see guests such as model Stephanie Seymour and actress Ellen Pompeo being ushered either past the red carpet toward the museum entrance or across the red carpet, in front of a line of lights and cameras. Then they could see who lingered for cocktails outside the main doors and who went right into Urs Fischer's show. Since most lingered, those who went directly in had a near-private viewing for a while.
Fischer, who began exhibiting in Europe half-way through the nineties and now works out of Brooklyn, makes messes of things in a confident way. For this, his first U.S. survey show, he treated all the floors with black vinyl and painted the walls white, but not cleanly, so that there's a zigzagging line of black on the bottom of walls and white marks on floors. He cut two walls out of the Grand Avenue space, so from the first gallery you can see through to the fourth gallery, and through the third you can see into the fourth. Some galleries, like the one with the chalet made of bread and the army of turquoise water drops hanging in it, feel claustrophobically full. Others are spare, like the one with a bed collapsed under a pile of cement in the center and The Grass Munchers (2007), a sculpture of wax hands grasping onto aluminum arms, protruding from the wall.
The newest, messiest part of Fischer's show is at the Geffen Contemporary, MOCA's Little Tokyo satellite. Around 7:30 Saturday night, guests boarded shuttles to go there, where the gala dinner would be held. Before boarding, they received cards with a note from artist Rob Pruitt on them. Pruitt, a New York artist who sculpted a 10-foot tall Andy Warhol two years ago, organized the gala, which he titled "Yesssss!" "A party [limited to just one theme] felt old-fashioned," his note explained, "and so it came to me that the theme of this gala could be themes -- a 'culture' or 'power' clash of mismatched ideas. This very Po-Po-Mo [post-postmodern] equation of sticking two or more unrelated things together . . . seemed perfect."
The card went on to say that as guests "shuttled to tonight's mash-up," they could watch footage of Cheech Marin, comedian and cannabis connoisseur. Loosely in honor of 4/20, Marin would talk about Urs Fischer and art in general in a video looping on all shuttles. When guests arrived at the Geffen, women in hula skirts and bikini tops put leis around their necks and women in Cossack hats handed out Russian cocktails in tin cups. Again, those who headed straight for the galleries could have a near-private viewing of the schizophrenic dreamscape Fischer assembled out of gray clay with the help of 1500 L.A. volunteers.
There are animals, nude ladies with tramp stamps, a gagged and bound man on top of a clay mound, a train set. Three wax sculptures by Fischer stand among the clay with lit wicks embedded in them-a fire marshal wandered around checking on them. The centerpiece, a 21-foot tall wax replica of The Rape of the Sabine Women by the Flemish-Italian sculptor Giambologna, shows three figures struggling. The arm of the uppermost female figure has a wick in it and had begun to melt away.
Trumpeters played to announce dinner, held in the empty annex gallery, and the USC marching band marched around tables not long after dinner began, playing in full uniform. Maybe this was meant to reference the recent proposal that financially-struggling MOCA merge with USC, but it's hard to read meaning into a mash-up. David and Maria Bell, museum board co-chairs, gave a speech emphasizing the $75 million recently raised for the museum's previously depleted endowment. Jeffrey Deitch, MOCA's director, did not speak, but an actor wearing glasses and an eye-patch posed as Deitch did, making inside jokes about MOCA's lack of seriousness. According to rumors, the actor was supposed to be James Franco, but he was in fact Stephen Nichols, who plays Tucker McCall on The Young and the Restless.
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Mark Mothersbaugh, the composer of Devo fame, played a brief set, still wearing his lei and a pastel green suit. But as all the video projections of him and the night's speakers were in black and white, only those closest to the stage saw him in full color. The Go-Gos, the all-girl New Wave band, played their 1982 hit "We Got the Beat" as dinner ended.
Most guests went outside for dessert and a handful wandered back through the exhibition, where the arm of Fischer's Sabine Woman had already mostly melted away.