“Gloria and I were just talking about the fact that both of us congratulated Jane when we read that she got arrested,” said artist Judy Chicago on Saturday night at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, where she was being honored at the annual Gala in the Garden, now in its 17th year.
Gloria Steinem, that is. The two feminist icons and longtime friends were cheering on Jane Fonda from afar, said Chicago, after news broke that the actress was put in handcuffs on Friday and charged with unlawful demonstration during a climate change protest outside the U.S. Capitol.
“God bless her,” shared Jane Lynch of Fonda. “She’s still out there protesting, and there’s a lot to protest now. I feel the tide is changing though. I feel hopeful.
“We come here every year,” Lynch continued, standing with partner Jennifer Cheyne. “…A civilization dies without culture. The government has been all right about supporting the arts, but it’s really our responsibility as citizens to continue to support the arts in our own cities.”
Chicago, the artist of the hour, cofounded the country’s first feminist art program in the early Seventies. Known as Womanhouse, it was the first public exhibition of feminist art.
“It’s both overwhelming and touching,” Chicago said of the recognition. “…There haven’t been seismic changes, not on the institutional level,” she added of being a woman artist in 2019. “It’s probably easier to get started, but to have a career as long as mine today would be just as challenging as it was for me.”
The night’s other honoree was actor, comedian and filmmaker Jordan Peele.
“Jordan is someone who is a mentor for me in my career,” said actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen 2nd, who worked with the director on “Us” and “Candyman,” the upcoming sequel to the 1992 horror film. “He definitely looks out for me. He keeps the morale very high. He’s really smart and doing work that’s timely and important. As much as he’s done for me in my career, when I had the opportunity to show up for him, to support him, it was a very easy choice.”
The “Aquaman” actor has had a busy year and has no plans of slowing down. He’s been filming Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and was recently cast in the “Matrix” franchise. “I think 2020 is going to be an exciting year,” he said, adding that it was his first time at the museum. “The architecture of this place is beautiful. I’m really looking forward to coming back on a Sunday or perhaps on a day when I can get around on my own and see what the museum is about.”
Someone who knows a thing or two about what the institution is about is Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin, who was greeting guests nearby.
“Both of them share what we care about here at the museum, artistic excellence and social justice issues,” Philbin said of the night’s honorees. “Jordan’s film ‘Get Out’ changed the conversation around race in film, and Judy has been changing the conversation now for five decades.”
On stage, Chicago was introduced by Steinem, who said she could “divide [her] life before and after Judy,” while Peele was welcomed by celebrated “Bad Feminist” writer Roxane Gay.
“I’m not much into horror — reality is horror enough under this presidency,” said Gay in front of the crowd. “But ‘Get Out’ captivated me.”
When he took the microphone, Peele said he found inspiration from the ways in which “we’re so good at masking our own evil in ourselves.” “Us” is about “fear of the self, of ourselves,” he said. But “‘Get Out’ was about my fear of white people,” he added to laughs. “It’s plain and simple.”
Moments before — as the cocktail portion of the evening was winding down — he accredited his success to those around him. “I have a great base, a really fantastic network of support, family that has shown me a lot of love,” he said. “And it’s a little bit of luck. My journey has been long, but every step of the way, I’ve been blessed, and I’ve kind of picked up a unique skill set.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my great honor to introduce…Beck and company,” said Ford, presenting the event’s entertainment. That company included a traditional Indian orchestra who played sitting cross-legged on the stage floor alongside Chris Martin, who made a surprise appearance. “I have a friend who just dropped by,” announced Beck, before Martin joined the musicians.
The audience included Rita Wilson, Ronald Meyer, Bong Joon-ho, Im Soo-jung, Ramin Shamshiri, Donna Langley, Jonas Wood, Shio Kusaka, Doug Aitken, Nia DaCosta, Katherine Ross, Michael Govan and Dakota Johnson, who arrived toward the end of the evening with Martin.
The Coldplay singer disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared after the duo closed with Beck’s 1993 hit “Loser.” “Thank you,” said Beck, before noticing Martin was gone. “Chris has left the building.”