When the last of three Francesco Vezzoli exhibitions lands in Los Angeles, it will not be seen in a museum. The Museum of Contemporary Art, which is organizing the show, will not spotlight the artist’s embroideries in its serene galleries on Grand Avenue, nor will his cinematic installations appear in the museum’s industrial satellite space in Little Tokyo.
Instead, Vezzoli’s latest extravaganza will occupy the vintage United Artists Theatre in downtown L.A. First opened in 1927, the theater, with its elaborate Gothic-style facade, is a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood. “United Artists was founded by artists for artists,” says MOCA curator Alma Ruiz. “It was started by figures like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. That was something that Francesco was very interested in.”
“Interested” is an understatement. Vezzoli is an artist obsessed with the moving pictures. And “Cinema Vezzoli,” as the exhibition is called, will take over just about every aspect of the storied movie house. Glass vitrines in the lobby will display posters for conceptual film projects. Glamorous powder rooms will contain sculptural works riffing on everything from Roman statuary to Doris Day.
Projections of Vezzoli’s videos will play in the main hall. The artist is known for his cinematic spoofs, like his racy 2005 trailer for a nonexistent remake of Caligula starring Helen Mirren, Courtney Love, Gore Vidal, and a lot of scantily clad extras. MOCA will not charge admission to the show, allowing passersby on Broadway, where the theater is located, to saunter in for a look.
“Cinema Vezzoli” is slated to open early next year as part of “The Trinity” of Vezzoli exhibitions spread out over three international venues. (The L.A. opening was originally set for autumn but has been postponed as the theater undergoes renovations under ownership of the Ace Hotel.) Through November, MAXXI in Rome is showing “Galleria Vezzoli,” an elaborate installation of the 42-year-old artist’s filmic and sculptural works. And this fall, the “Church of Vezzoli”—a reconstructed deconsecrated church from southern Italy—will sprout up at MoMA PS1 in New York.
Vezzoli is known for playing with cinematic archetypes (he loves a good diva) and the trappings of fame. In 2009, for instance, he collaborated with director Roman Polanski on a fake ad showing Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams fighting over an oversized flacon of perfume. But his relentless focus on glitz hasn’t always been beloved by the critics, who have variously described his work as “sophomoric, pseudo-blasphemy” and “YouTube footage as financed by the Medicis.”
Ruiz says “Cinema Vezzoli” may change a few minds. “I don’t think people give him enough credit, especially in the U.S., where we’ve only seen bits and pieces of what he’s done,” she explains. “I’m hoping that with the show at MOCA we can start the process of getting people to look at the depth of his work. It’s very complex. Take a single piece and start deconstructing it—you could spend weeks.”