Using just cardboard, copper wire, bare canvas, shoe boxes, tape, paint, aluminum foil, and abundant imagination, Redcat—the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater—in downtown Los Angeles whipped up a lavish fifth anniversary gala dinner on Saturday evening that would have made any recession-minded host proud.
Los Angeles-based artists Miwa Matreyek of Cloud Eye Control and Scoli Acosta designed the benefit. They began their work in earnest in September, just as the economy began to implode. “As the world economic crisis was unfolding, we were fond of the idea of doing something simply elegant, not outlandish and not slick and not garish—simple materials with extraordinary effect,” said Mark Murphy, executive director of Redcat, who planned the event with Clara Kim, the contemporary arts center’s gallery director and curator, and Chris Mannino, its director of development.
Starting with bare canvas, Acosta created tablecloths by painting on colorful rectangles to serve as placemats and gluing a large aluminum foil medallion in the center. Inside the silvery swatch, he attached a round Xeroxed image of a black-and-white drawing of lilies. Placed on top of the drawing were white cardboard lilies that guests could take home.
The cardboard blooms were also arranged on lobby cocktail tables, in a straight line atop the storage shelf behind the lobby bar and in a giant pouf dangling from the ceiling of Redcat’s black-box theater, where dinner was served to 240 supporters and artists. Beneath the aerial bouquet was a chandelier made of taped-up shoe boxes in the shape of an upside-down igloo, which was lined with aluminum foil. Acosta envisioned the tablecloths as mirror images of the hanging bouquet seen from beneath the chandelier. He also decorated the lobby walls and theater balcony with painted cardboard cutouts in the shape of a diamond with knobs on its points.
Projected on two of the theater’s facing walls was Matreyek’s video of a black-and-white cityscape punctuated with giant body parts, red dots, moving lips, eyelids that parted to reveal teeth and other playful images reminiscent of Salvador Dali and Monty Python.
The evening at the arts space in the bowels of the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex began with cocktails at 7 p.m., while DJ Frosty, a.k.a. Mark McNeill of Dublab.com, spun a mix designed for the multigenerational crowd. At 7:45, members of the all-women’s band known as Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles marched into the lobby to lead guests to their tables. Most tables were laid with place cards by organizers who had seated individuals with an eye toward generating brisk dinner conversation, as they might at a dinner party in someone’s home.
Award presentations to the honorees—artist Barry McGee, philanthropist Robert Egelston, and CalArts’ President Steven D. Lavine—were tucked between courses to prevent gala burnout. After guests feasted on Jackson Catering’s citrus-braised spring baby vegetable salad and brisket pot roast, bassist Charlie Haden performed with his cofounder of CalArts’ jazz program, David Roitstein, on piano. The crowd returned to the lobby to schmooze and cruise a dessert buffet with mini cocoa cakes, raspberry frangipani tarts, and other treats. Even though the dinner was over by 10:15 p.m., the last guests didn’t drift toward the parking garage until 1 a.m., leaving $375,000 for Redcat’s visual and performing arts programs in their wake.