11/24/2010 12:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

All Is Well That Ends Well... With a Gala at MOCA


Many of you would probably agree that we are living in a rather cynical age, and that's why it's so inspiring to witness the miracle of resurrection. And no, I'm not talking about the story of Jesus. I'm talking about MOCA, our Museum of Contemporary Art, which last year swiftly rose from the ashes thanks to the tremendous support of Los Angeles artists, collectors, and especially the generosity of LA philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad.


A thousand guests at last year's Gala were entertained by Lady Gaga and ballet dancers from the Bolshoi Theater. This year's Gala, which took place on Saturday night and raised $3 million, was an equally sumptuous affair, with performances by Beck and Caetano Veloso among others. In a smart move, Jeffrey Deitch, MOCA's new Director, asked Doug Aitken, an internationally-known Los Angeles artist, to come up with ideas for the evening's entertainment, design, and even the dinner menu. And as far as I could tell, most of the guests, including myself, had a great time.


It's not unusual for guests at such an event to receive the gift of a heavy coffee table book -- traditionally a self-congratulatory museum publication. But not this time. For this year's Gala, Doug Aitken and his team produced a slim, attractive book -- funded by Grazka Taylor -- celebrating the indomitable spirit of the West. They approached one thousand people with a seemingly simple question: "What is your idea of the West?" Their collective response, along with numerous photographs, many by Aitken himself, makes for a surprisingly fresh and informal portrait of California.


Knowing that hundreds of important collectors would be traveling to attend this Gala, two of L.A.'s major galleries smartly scheduled for the same weekend openings of two high-profile new exhibitions. Gagosian Gallery mounted an astonishing display of large-scale canvases by Joan Mitchell, painted in her last decade, which was surprisingly prolific and productive. These majestic paintings, with their youthful, even audacious energy, sparkle with bright colors that make you believe you can fly.


But these days, high-end commercial galleries not only compete with museums, but sometimes even outdo them, mounting high-profile exhibitions accompanied by equally lavish catalogs. This is true for both Joan Mitchell's and Willem de Kooning's exhibitions -- the latter mounted at L&M's newest space in Venice. De Kooning's exhibition consists of two parts: his iconic small and medium size drawings of women, made in the decade following WWII, and his large-scale abstract paintings from the early 1980s.


Though de Kooning lived a long life, his last years were tragically lost to Alzheimer's. Looking at the late paintings on display at L&M, it's difficult not to speculate about when exactly the artist's mind started to slip and wonder whether some of these late paintings were already starting to reveal signs of the devastating illness.

All this brings to mind the sad story of the final years in the life of Ronald Reagan and the rumors that Alzheimer's actually started to manifest during the last year of his Presidency.

Joan Mitchell: The Last Decade
On view at Gagosian (Beverly Hills) through December 23

Willem de Kooning: Figure & Light
On view at L&M Arts (Venice) through January 15, 2011

Banner image: MOCA's Annual Gala "The Artist's Museum Happening" Dinner

Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM.

To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, visit Art Talk on KCRW