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"No Touching, Feeding, or Disrespecting the Centerpiece"

Marina Abramović Orchestrates an Unusual Fundraising Gala for the L.A. MOCA

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Marina Abramović and Tilda Swinton   
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What could be more horrifying to a devoted clotheshorse than walking into a swanky society soirée and seeing someone else wearing the exact same outfit as you? How about walking into a swanky society soirée and seeing, oh, about 700 people wearing that exact same outfit? That's the scenario that played out Saturday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art's annual fundraising gala, where every guest was instructed to don a white lab coat before entering the tent where the affair was being held.

Inside the tent, attendees were greeted by the sight of tables with rather unsettling centerpieces. Some tables featured a nude woman lying prone atop a slowly rotating lazy Susan, while others featured the slowly rotating heads of live performers whose bodies were hidden under the table. A card at each place setting laid down the rules: "The centerpiece will observe you. You may observe the centerpiece. No touching, feeding, offering drink, or disrespecting the centerpiece. All communication and connection with the centerpiece must be non-verbal."

Orchestrating the event, which raised $2.5 million, was this year's guest creative director, performance artist Marina Abramovic. "You know when you enter here that strange things are happening," the Yugoslav-born, New York-based artist explained. "You're here not anymore as a guest at another gala, you're here as an experimenter in this strange performance." Among the evening's "experimenters were notable names from a wide variety of realms—politicians such as Gov. Jerry Brown and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; artists Doug Aitken and Ed Ruscha; philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad; thespians Kirsten Dunst and Will Ferrell; fashion-world celebs Hedi Slimane, Rachel Zoe, Jeremy Scott, and Cameron Silver; and numerous Hollywood scenesters, including Dita Von Teese and Liz Goldwyn.

Following the art-themed dinner (menu items included "John Cage Symphony" salad and "de Kooning Power Mix" filet of beef), attendees were treated to a performance by Debbie Harry, who made a grand entrance on a litter carried by four strapping shirtless men. The night culminated with the appearance of two cakes, both lifelike and life-size, made to look like Abromovic and Harry. The two women each plunged a long knife into her doppelgänger cake, then pulled out the "hearts" within, before the cakes were sliced up into "body parts" and served to the crowd, nicely illustrating the sacrifices artists make for their work. The lesson wasn't lost on the crowd: As the event drew to a close, the live performers who had been crouching motionlessly on lazy Susans below the tables for over three hours emerged from their stations and were each greeted with enthusiastic applause.

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