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To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the artist Francesco Vezzoli envisioned a spectacular performance by pop princess Lady Gaga and the Bolshoi ballet.

When the Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli was commissioned to design the 30th anniversary gala of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the event was billed as the party of the year. Vezzoli, who is well known for his video art that uses a cast of celebrities, promised a party that would encapsulate his work in a living art installation of spectacular scope. Commercial pop music would meet highbrow ballet, while art and architecture would provide the props. On the evening of November 14, he did not disappoint.

“They basically offered me a social ritual as a blank canvas upon which I could make a project,” Vezzoli told the art critic Anthony Haden-Guest of his invitation from Larry Gagosian, a gallerist, and Dasha Zhukova, the daughter of a Russian billionaire who founded Moscow’s Garage Center for Contemporary Art, who were the sponsors of MOCA’s celebration.

“So, thinking of something that could merge art and entertainment I came up with the reference of Ballets Russes. Diaghilev has always been a big hero of mine. I went onto a conceptual search, and I thought that mixing Lady Gaga and the Bolshoi would be the most daring, absurd thing ever. Gaga is one of the Nijinskys of our epoch.”

And so it was that Lady Gaga sang her ballad “Speechless” at a rotating Steinway piano custom painted with butterflies by Damien Hirst, while dancers from the Bolshoi pirouetted nearby, and Vezzoli mimed the sewing of Gaga’s face on an embroidery disc.

Gaga, famous for her experimental attitude towards fashion, wore a satin dress dripping in chandelier crystals, which was designed specially by Miuccia Prada and was inspired by the costume Giorgio de Chirico made of Diaghilev’s “Le Bal”. An avant-garde Frank Gehry-designed hat perched atop her head - “a millinery version of Walt Disney Hall”, said the New Yorker, while Gehry himself declared it was worn incorrectly: “She has a thing about showing her eyes – she doesn’t like to – so she closed it up”.

The director Baz Luhrmann and his production designer wife, Catherine Martin, designed the masks worn by both Gaga and Vezzoli, and Miuccia Prada also created the costumes worn by the Bolshoi dancers. Vezzoli entitled the extravaganza as “Ballet Russes Italian Style (The Shortest Musical You Will Never See Again)”.

After the eight-minute spectacle, a live auction took place that raised over $4 million for the museum, the highlight of which was the Damien Hirst-customized piano, purchased by Larry Gagosian for $450,000 (Frank Gehry was an underbidder). A selection of other props from the performance, including the hat by Frank Gehry, the masks by Baz Luhurmann and the Miuccia Prada-designed couture dress, are available by online auction through November 30 at moca.org.

While the all-star performance was undoubtedly the highlight of the gala, it was just part of Vezzoli’s vision for the evening. “Absolutely everything that one would experience from the minute that they enter this tent for dinner—everything that anyone sees and feels and experiences—is conceived by Francesco as part of the artwork,” said Maria Arena Bell, chair of the MOCA event. “And so it’s really a living artwork and a happening the likes of which I don’t think anyone has ever attempted.”

Such a lavish event at MOCA came as a surprise to many given that it was only a year ago that the museum was on the brink of financial collapse before the billionaire art collector Eli Broad pledged his support. Others commented that such a decadent party was inappropriate at a time when one in ten Americans are unemployed. These concerns did not deter attendance by heavy weights from the worlds of art, fashion and finance, as well as the Hollywood A-list (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie received a private tour of the museum’s private collection before the entertainment began).

“I have been asked whether with the recession people would find my work less interesting. And I feel that, despite the recession, the topics that I am discussing in my work are still relevant,” Vezzoli explained to Haden-Guest. “Luckily the Celebrity Cult does not seem to have diminished at all. Or probably it’s even stronger, I would say.” Nowhere was this more evident than at MOCA’s Gaga gala.

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