Jane Fonda Teams With Gagosian to Fight Climate Change

At the Art for a Safe & Healthy California event in Los Angeles, the actress discussed how she avoids going down “a rabbit hole of despair”: activism.

Jane Fonda
Virisa Yong/

Who says no to Jane Fonda? The answer—according to art dealer Larry Gagosian, John Legend, and a medley of artists, politicians, celebrities, and various other masters of the universe—is no one.

On April 9th, Fonda, along with Gagosian, philanthropist Aileen Getty, and Democratic Party mega-donors Susie and Mark Buell, hosted a sold-out fund-raiser and art auction preview at Gagosian’s Beverly Hills gallery, complete with a live performance from Legend. “I’m not used to charging people to come to my gallery,” Gagosian said in a speech during the event. “But it’s an idea that I think has some merit.”

Celebrity guests included Chelsea Handler, Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann, Maria Shriver, and cohosts Legend and Chrissy Teigen, whom W caught by an ice sculpture-cum-caviar display. Teigen confirmed that, when offered caviar, they both like to eat it with potato chips, which is definitely the best way to consume caviar, blinis be damned. “But John eats caviar like the guy on Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he takes 10 scoops of it,” she said. “And then I’m the Larry David, being like ‘you cannot be taking that much caviar from an event. This is for the public. It’s not okay.’ He does, like, an ice cream scoop of caviar.”

“That’s my ratio,” Legend added. “More caviar.” Like Christian Slater, he goes over his allotment.

Chrissy Teigen and John Legend

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But the fund-raiser, while very glamorous, was not all about the (excellent) canapés. Called Art for a Safe and Healthy California, the benefit served to drum up support and awareness for the grassroots organization’s campaign, which is dedicated to fighting Big Oil. Their focus lies with SB1137, a law that creates buffer zones (called “setbacks”) of at least 3,200 feet between oil drilling and residential communities. California governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law back in 2022—and within days, oil companies began campaigning for a referendum, which will appear on the ballot in November. And so Fonda, joined by Newsom and former California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, is campaigning to keep the law on the books.

Fonda, a Hollywood icon whose history of activism goes all the way back to the 1960s, has no patience for malaise when it comes to climate change. “It’s when you do something that the despair disappears,” she said. “As long as I’m doing everything I possibly can, then I don’t go down a rabbit hole of despair.”

Activist Nalleli Cobo, Jane Fonda, and philanthropist Wendy Schmidt.

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Doing everything she “possibly can” is anything but an empty platitude for Fonda, who exudes energy and passion when it comes to the causes she cares about—she was even arrested five times in Washington D.C. during her climate-focused “Fire Drill Fridays” protests in 2019, at the age of 81. “Greta Thunberg has a quote that I love,” she said. “‘Everybody goes looking for hope. No, look for action, and hope will come.’”

Fonda has been campaigning for setbacks for a long time (“I mean a long time,” she said. “For many, many decades”).

“I thought, ‘Well, selling art can make a lot of money,’” she said. “So, I started asking artists to donate.”

The result is an auction, with works on offer at a day sale at Christie’s in May and a selling exhibition at Gagosian later this summer, featuring work from 30 marquee artists, including Charles Gaines, Frank Gehry (a benefit cohost), Alex Israel, Marilyn Minter, Catherine Opie, Ed Ruscha, Kenny Scharf, Hank Willis Thomas, and legendary restaurateur Michael Chow, whose Los Angeles outpost of his restaurant Mr. Chow’s is located just down the street from Gagosian.

Artist Nathaniel Mary Quinn agreed to participate in the auction after meeting Fonda at LACMA Gala. “The oil wells happen to be built in a close vicinity of materially disadvantaged communities, especially communities of color,” he noted. “And those oil wells, when you’re drilling, release carcinogens and toxins into the air that cause cancer.”

For her part, Opie—in addition to her deeply respected art practice—is a longtime environmental activist who feels this fight personally: her grandson grew up near an oil well in South Central Los Angeles, and now suffers from asthma. After a call from Fonda, Opie said that she “went over to her house and sat with her and we discussed this initiative. I mentioned a lot of other artists that I felt would come aboard, and I was happy to choose a work of art to help California become even more ecologically sound.”

“Jane’s house is really lovely,” she added. “She offers you a wonderful array of potential beverages.”