Hammer Museum gala brings out the stars, and an Ava DuVernay speech about men

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A report by Jessica Gelt for the Los Angeles Times.

Ava DuVernay had a few choice words for men at the Hammer Museum’s Gala in the Garden on Saturday night. Taking to the stage after an enthusiastic introduction by J.J. Abrams, the evening’s honoree said she would normally devote her speech to women, but on this night she was switching things up.

“I won’t focus on men … who develop and dwell in the dark, dangerous places that make the world unsafe for so many women,” said DuVernay, who was nominated for an Academy Award for the 2016 feature documentary “13th.”

“I will focus on the men I’ve encountered who chose not to use their privilege to diminish but rather to uplift. Tonight, I’m gonna tell a few stories about the good guys — in a spirit of salute, in a spirit of sanctuary, in a spirit of soothing an open wound that has been festering past the point of attention and care.”

The filmmaker’s words fell on the ears of a Hollywood-heavy crowd reeling from the mounting allegations of sexual misconduct against producer Harvey Weinstein.

Jessica Lange, Marisa TomeiSarah Jessica ParkerZachary QuintoDiane Keaton and other celebrities joined such art-world stars as Mark Bradford, Barbara Kruger and Frank Gehry. All were present to honor DuVernay and New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als and to support the Hammer, which raised $2.4 million at the annual event.

Guests sat down for Lucques chef Suzanne Goin’s dinner of haricots verts with figs and local goat cheese, chicken with braised leeks and, for dessert, a nectarine tres leches cake. They also took in the Hammer’s current exhibition, “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985.”

The show serves as a powerful reminder of the disenfranchisement and subjugation of women in 20th century Latin America, but it could just as easily speak to the issues that women find themselves grappling with as the Weinstein scandal unfolds.

One series of photos by Cuban artist Ana Mendieta shows a nude female form pressed against a single pane of glass in awkward, painful-looking positions — stomach flattened, breasts askew. Another, by Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino, depicts a woman with scissors poised to snip off her tongue and nose in an allusion to the violence Brazil suffered during its long dictatorship.

“At this moment in time, this show resonates on so many levels,” said Hammer Director Ann Philbin, adding that perhaps one of her most powerful experiences was when nearly 50 of the featured artists came to the museum. “For some of them, it was the first time that they ever got the accolades they always deserved.”

Exhibits like “Radical Women” are exactly why the Hammer matters, Bradford said.

“I think the world’s urgency has rushed into the art world — and you can no longer turn your gaze,” the painter added, comparing the political discord in America to an earthquake that is spurring artists to grapple with long-simmering social injustice. “I just want the Earth to stop moving, so I can see what the damage is, call my loved ones and get back to rebuild.”

Joanne Heyler, director of the Broad museum downtown, credited Philbin’s vision.

“There’s a beautiful ecosystem developing between institutions in L.A., but you have to acknowledge that Annie was doing this earlier than a lot of others,” she said. “So, I really admire her and the Hammer for that.”

Quinto, the gala’s co-chair, introduced the evening’s musical performers, sister indie-rockers Haim.

“I love this museum, and I love the work they do,” he said. “I love that they celebrate emerging artists and they’re really interested in elevating the conversation about art and its social and political relevance.”

Which is what DuVernay did with her speech. She thanked, among others, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and her father for “being one of the good guys,” and she urged other fathers to “be a good guy to your daughters and your sons and let them know that they can find a place where they have equal footing, and that they can do anything.”

The sentiment struck a chord with the crowd, which gave DuVernay a standing ovation.

“I love what she said about men,” actress Jane Lynch said. “Because we’re beating the [stuffing] out of Harvey Weinstein right now, and we’re very angry with men. But I love that she talked about the men who helped her create a safe space where she could make her art.”

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