Paris Hilton, John Legend, and More Celebrate Jeff Koons At the 2017 MOCA Gala

The star-studded MOCA Gala brought out Sean Penn, Sharon Stone, and more.

by Miles Griffis

MOCA Gala 2017: Honoring Jeff Koons
Billy Farrell/

“Los Angeles has become my Philadelphia,” Jeff Koons whispered as a crowd of people thronged around him. It was the opening night gallery exhibition at the Gagosian Beverly Hills, and behind him, his 10-foot Farnese Hercules nude sculpture, a metallic gazing ball balanced on a hunky plaster shoulder and a fist full of figs rested on the precipice a bubble butt that could only belong to a demigod.

“Much like Philadelphia contained so much of [Marcel] Duchamp’s work, Los Angeles condenses the greatest amount of my work anywhere in the world. I’m thrilled to be honored by MOCA,” he said before a woman in a Stella McCartney romper robbed his attention and sandwiched her two boys on either side for a photo.

That honor came just two nights later, with Saturday evening’s MOCA Gala hosted in Downtown Los Angeles at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. The theme of the evening reflected the highlights of Koons’ prolific career: optimism, revelry, and a skosh of kitsch. There are white roses on cocktail tables, Belvedere cocktails, and hundreds of lustrous fuchsia balloons lining the walls of a transparent tent, recalling the Celebration balloon animal statues that inflated Koon’s career.

“You’re not going to believe me, but I didn’t know I was going to match my party!” said MOCA Co-Chair Lilly Tartikoff Karatz in a fuchsia Roland Mouret dress. Whether or not you take her word for that so-called accidental ornamentation, Tartikoff Karatz’s appreciation for Koons and his philanthropy were pure honest-to-goodness.

“He’s done so much for us without ever expecting us to honor him,” she said.“His generosity over the decades has meant so much to MOCA.” Behind her on display were three variations of limited edition Balloon Dog in yellow, pink, and orange cast on top of Bernardaud plates. Over the course of the years, Koons has gifted more than five million dollars to the museum in both monetary and art piece donations.

Sean Penn and Sharon Stone at the 2017 MOCA Gala

Billy Farrell/

Like most parties in Los Angeles, the gala began with a lingering outdoor cocktail party on a particularly clear evening, the far off mountains lit in alpenglow through the downtown high rises. And like any good party in Los Angeles, cocktails were followed by a fishy dinner catered by Wolfgang Puck. Course one: Salmon salad. Course two: Loup de mer. Course thre: Koonian pavlova, sorbet, and hazelnut napoleon.

Prized tables in the front of the stage featured guests Sean Penn, Sharon Stone, Patricia Arquette, Ryan Seacrest, Paris Hilton, Jennifer Tilly, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, as well as artists Doug Aitken, Alex Israel, Sterling Ruby, and Genevieve Gaignard, as well as countless trustees, board members, and the master of ceremony, MOCA director Philippe Vergne.

The director expressed a love poem of praise about Koons and played a playful video on his prolific career narrated by Scarlett Johansson and featured a cameo by singer and large hat wearer, Pharrell. Vergne then finally introduced Koon’s surprise introducer, Pierce Brosnan. The actor spoke in an over the top bravado adding his own verses to Vergne’s ode.

At last Koons seized the stage with a dimpled smile. “What’s really being celebrated tonight is Los Angeles and the vitality of the art world,” he said. “Whenever I speak with younger artists, more and more of them are saying I am going to Los Angeles.”

Following a standing ovation for Koons, John Legend and a full band played a short set including “All of Me”, “Greenlight”, and “Overload,” at which point Miguel (the second surprise of the evening) joined for a well received duet.

Attendees continued to twist the night away as DJ M.O.S. took control for a soulful soundtrack as macchiatos were offered and mini donuts were eaten. Koons mingled and night-capped with guests on the jasmine infused spring night that, simply put, refused to deflate.

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