Michael Govan with Eva Chow, cochair of LACMA’s first Art + Film Gala

  Leonardo DiCaprio is a cochair of the LACMA event
  Artist John Baldessari is one of the museum gala’s honoree
  Clint Eastwood is one of the museum gala's honoree

On November 5, Eva Chow and Leonardo DiCaprio cochair LACMA’s inaugural Art + Film Gala, honoring Clint Eastwood and artist John Baldessari. The evening boasts a guest list of some of the biggest names in the movie industry and art world and raises funds for the museum’s recently reenergized film program, which now includes exhibitions, acquisitions, educational programming, screenings, and a series called Live Read created by Jason Reitman. We listened in on a conversation between Chow and Michael Govan about the event, the new program, and the importance of film

EVA CHOW: Do you remember when we first talked about this event?
MICHAEL GOVAN: I came to you because in the worst moments of the financial crisis, Marty Scorsese had written me a letter about how important film is for Los Angeles and for this museum. And then Marty ended up speaking at the board meeting, and I think that’s when you and I said we need to…

EC: …to do something to put focus [on the film department] and raise funds to do whatever needs to be done.
MG: For me, the big thing is that all these newspaper articles were being written about how LA is now the center of the art world in terms of artists. Everybody is moving to LA, and we know it’s already a red-hot city for media and film, and somehow these two worlds had not quite mixed.

EC: We were talking about it, and you said, “What if we do a big party to relaunch the film department?” That was a year and a half ago.
MG: I was talking to Leo [DiCaprio] at the very beginning about what LACMA’s relaunched film program would be. And Leo is an old-movie fanatic. He collects posters, and obviously he’s friends with [Scorsese]. We got into a big discussion about why New York and Paris have the best museum film programs when LA is the center of that universe. And I think that’s when Leo got totally focused on doing this in LA.

EC: I think it’s nice to have a big event that has so many cool individuals from different backgrounds and different genres coming together to celebrate one thing, which is art. It just happens to be film.
MG: You realize how intertwined film is with 20th-century art history. We haven’t even seen the beginning of the revision of 20th-century art history in terms of film and photography.

EC: You’re absolutely right. Film influences everything. Fashion, fine art… film is art. It influences our life.
MG: We want to run a film program that you couldn’t run in any other state or city, because the artists are here. So we’ve relaunched our filmscreenings program [Film Independent at LACMA] and Jason Reitman created a series called Live Read, where guest artists (Reitman is the first) bring top artists together and they actually read scripts. We’re also doing exhibition programs: We just closed the Tim Burton show—which was one of the most successful exhibits in LACMA’s history—and we’ve planned to bring a Stanley Kubrick [show] here next year. The question is, how can you take the art of film and fully integrate it into the center of a curatorial practice that involves not just screening movies but bringing the artists who are here in LA to participate.

EC: You had the vision to do this, and that’s where it starts. This gala will spark the tension and interest, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.
MG: It’s unimaginable to not only have a major [film] program, but also major support for it at this central museum of the Los Angeles community. There is nothing without the patrons. We get about 20 to 30-plus percent of our budget from the county of Los Angeles, but the lion’s share of our budget comes from private donations from corporations or individuals. In the last 10 years, while our donations have grown, the one category we’ve had almost no donations to has been film. But I don’t think that’s because there’s no interest, and I don’t think it’s because there’s no generosity in this city—I think it’s just never been focused.

EC: We are honoring two incredible men at the Art + Film Gala: Clint Eastwood and John Baldessari.
MG: I wanted to structure it as honoring a great filmmaker and honoring a great artist working here—to give a sense that this is what this community is right now. Clint came to speak at LACMA last year, and he expressed his personal support for the film program when he was here.

EC: Clint Eastwood is such an amazing filmmaker. I can’t think of anyone who can cross over between the front and back of the camera at the level he’s been doing it for most of his life. I think he represents the word “cool,” and I can’t believe we are fortunate enough to honor him at our first gala.
MG: As far as John Baldessari, he’s another artist who has sort of a senior status in Los Angeles. He’s been an inspiration to so many younger artists, and of course John has interspersed movie culture in his work from the very beginning. You look at his work from the ’80s and ’90s, and he would go to the movie studios and grab all of the stills that were inexpensive because they weren’t identified and put them into pictorial compositions. Those two characters, Clint and John, have also been mentors for a lot of other younger actors, artists, and filmmakers, so we thought it was perfect to honor them.

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