There are museum galas that call for cocktail attire. And the requesting guests come in evening wear. And then there is “utopian evening wear”.
Such was the case at the Orange County Museum of Art’s gala on Saturday night, where its nearly 400 guests were asked to appear attired in utopian black ties. However, the dress code appropriately set the tone for the evening, an upbeat if serious affair that marks the debut of the museum’s new $94 million building, which opens to the public Oct. 8.
And the utopian evening wear, it turns out, is very interpretive. For museum benefactor Mary Carrington, this meant an architectural Comme des Garcons cage skirt dress with black ruffles; for donor Marsha Anderson, a puffy black satin sack dress by Rabih Kayrouz; for donor Mindy Stearns, a floor-length dress by a French designer made of mesh and geometric mirrors. And for so many others, it meant sparkling silver.
All of this made for a celebratory dedication of Costa Mesa’s newest neighbor, completing the campus of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The scene was punctuated by colorful aperitif cocktails such as B. a vodka-infused lemonade that turned from clear to purple thanks to the organic butterfly pea flower floating in each glass.
Museum curator Heidi Zuckerman joked that her midnight blue tiered tulle gown was a “ball gown utopia” because “my boyfriend and I feel like teenagers together.” (His name was JP McNeill and he wore a tartan.) Then Zuckerman got serious. The evening was “exciting” for her, she said.
“As the final piece of the cultural puzzle here on the Segerstrom campus, we are able to enliven and activate this space in a way never seen before,” she said of the new museum building. “We’re open at 10 a.m., six days a week, and the fact that we’ve had free entry for the first decade has had people saying, ‘Really? It’s free?’ We know that contemporary art can be weird or scary for people, so removing as many barriers to entry as possible is just a dream come true.”
The Morphosis-designed building, led by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and managing partner Brandon Welling, has taken more than a decade in development.
Over cocktails, Welling surveyed the scene — a mix of high gloss, with the building’s gleaming glass and terracotta tiles and a few admittedly rough edges, like a patch of the building’s envelope where the tile edges were unfinished and exposed — and said it felt everything “a little surreal”. But that’s how it is with an ambitious new museum building.
“I’ve never opened a building that I thought was 100% complete,” he said. “Something is always. It’s not uncommon.”
The OCMA opening was particularly fulfilling, he added.
“We work on buildings all over the world, but the public ones are the best because they get an influx of perspective and affect the most people,” he said.
Among the artists in attendance — many of whom Zuckerman said she’s known more than half her life — were Sanford Biggers, Fred Eversley, Alexandra Grant, Doug Aitken, Lily Stockman, Fred Tomaselli, and Peter Shelton.
Guests were treated to previews of the museum’s inaugural exhibitions, which included an overview of the work of 81-year-old New York-based sculptor Eversley; a showcase of “13 Pioneering Women Artists” from the OCMA Collection, paying tribute to the museum’s 13 founding women; and a revival of the museum’s long-running California Biennale.
On the way to the exhibits, Aitken mentioned the history of the area in relation to the museum.
“It’s interesting how underappreciated the influence of UC Irvine and Orange County on seminal art has been,” he said. “So many of the artists of the light and space movement – Chris Burden, Robert Irwin – all went to school down here. Every community needs its lighthouse, its beacon, and it’s interesting that there’s actually a very deep root system here.”
The evening’s guest of honor was Biggers, whose large-scale, site-specific sculpture “Of many waters…” (2022) greeted guests on the museum’s grand staircase on the upper terrace. The 24ft wide, 16ft tall steel and aluminum piece adorned with two tone sequins – a hybrid display of African and European classical sculpture – shimmered against the setting sun as dinner began. Biggers described the piece as dealing with many things, including “painting, optics, composition, trompe-l’oeil and illusionary space. But it’s also about monuments and memorials, as well as history and culture.”
The evening, Biggers added, felt like a homecoming in more ways than one. The New York-based artist hails from Los Angeles — he grew up in Baldwin Hills — but Zuckerman is also an old friend of 20 years. The two collaborated on his first museum show, Psychic Windows, while she was curator at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives in 2002. “So it’s deeply satisfying to be able to come back and work together again,” he said.
As dinner began al fresco on the patio, Zuckerman greeted the crowd.
“What if, for the rest of our lives, we asked ourselves every moment, every hour, every day, ‘What would I love?'” she said. “What if we allowed ourselves the incredible gift of connecting with our truest and deepest desires? What if we believe that not only are we able or entitled to do so, but that we know we are making the world a better place by granting ourselves this gift of connection—better for ourselves, for our partners, for our children, for the planet? What if this art space encourages and amplifies that notion?”
She added that the event raised more than $2.1 million for the museum — more than double what the museum raised at its gala last year.
But nothing says utopia more than a sumptuous wine pairing al fresco on a brisk fall evening (guests were given blankets, a nice touch). Untitled Events’ four-course menu featured no fewer than seven wine pairings, with separate glasses for each pour. This meant that around 70 empty wine glasses of various heights and shapes were crowded together at the start of the meal, covering each tabletop.
Master sommelier Jay Fletcher guided the crowd through the wines that were being served, describing a French Chablis as being from “cold, troubled earth” and a little “nervous”. (It was quite spirited, in fact.)
Soon the glass range was filled to varying degrees with liquid in various shades of ruby red and gold. Event searchlights criss-crossed the darkened sky and darted across the table, sparking wisps of light from the rim of the wine glass. The effect was surprisingly beautiful, like an evolving, useful art installation tabletop centerpiece.
At this point, DJ Dylan cranked up a house remix of “Funky Town.” And the guests poured onto the dance floor in the center of the square, a celebratory sea of silver tassels, silver trains and silver sequins.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-10-03/ocma-opening-gala-photos-party-report ‘Utopian black tie’, silver sequins: Inside Orange County Museum of Art’s lavish gala