Back in November of 2011, Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic was the artistic director for a controversial gala dinner at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The guests for the black tie event were politicians, heirs, celebrities, moguls and entrepreneurs who had paid anything from $2,500 to $10,000 for a ticket to the November 12th fundraiser. So what was controversial? Well, ‘the mother of performance art’ arranged for 85 nude performers to serve as rotating human centrepieces at each of the tables, with each guest asked to don a white lab coat before they sat at the table. According to one MoCA trustee and collector, he locked eyes with his table’s centrepiece for more than 30 minutes, saying, “We actually locked eyes for 35 minutes straight and had this non-verbal conversation that was really meaningful. It was incredible. He was staring at me as Deborah Harry (of Blondie fame) was performing, I felt so honoured.”
Not all the guests seem to have enjoyed being stared at by a naked person on their table whilst eating their dinner, the white lab coats made it difficult to separate guests and waiters and there have since been complaints from the performance artists involved regarding the working conditions and the compensation that they received. But the Marina Abramovic MoCA gala dinner was positively refined when compared to another meal organised by an artist in California.
Back in 1941, Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí hosted a dinner party at the Bali Room of the Hotel Del Monte in Monterey, California, and in typical Dalí fashion, it was pretty far from the norm. The event was titled Night In A Surrealist Forest and was intended to serve as a fundraiser to aid European artists who had been displaced as a result of the fighting and upheaval of the Second World War. Newly released newsreel footage shows how the event was covered by Paramount News at the time, with the title screen reading Dizzy Dalí Dinner and the narrator making the usual attempts at suave commentary coupled with awful puns.
Dalí’s wife, Gala, presided over proceedings from a red velvet bed, wearing a unicorn costume and feeding a real baby lion cub with a nursing bottle. Dalí wore large flaps on either side of his head that had human faces on them, representing anatomy apparently. While some of the guests seemed to embrace Dalí’s surrealist vision of a dinner party, others were clearly uncomfortable with the proceedings. Bob Hope looked bewildered when the fish course was served to him in a woman’s shoe (narrator: “presumably the fish is Sole”), and he looked downright frightened when a platter of live frogs arrived at the table and began to hop off in all directions. So while some guests at MoCA may have been complaining about performance artists making them uncomfortable, they should really be thankful that a Surrealist like Dalí hadn’t been put in charge of proceedings.