Hammer Museum pays tribute to departing director Ann Philbin at star-packed gala

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Hammer Director Ann Philbin was given the celebrity treatment at the museum’s star-packed gala Saturday night as a host of arts and culture luminaries, including Jodie Foster, Mark Bradford, Hilton Als, k.d. lang, Lari Pittman and Will Ferrell took to the stage during an elaborate sit-down dinner to sing her praises as she readies to retire after 25 years.

Guest speakers took on a tone of reverence as they paid tribute to Philbin’s many accomplishments, noting that she had emerged as a trailblazer, helping to transform the arts landscape in Los Angeles with her deep historical knowledge, her commitment to up-and-coming artists and her enthusiasm for a scene that in the last quarter-century has seen Los Angeles define itself as one of the world’s preeminent meccas of fine art.

Artist Bradford recalled meeting Philbin in 1999, a time when he didn’t know if he’d be able to scrape together a few dollars to pay the valet after attending parties she‘d invited him to. He remembered her as both bold and vulnerable — a woman who could persuade collectors to give her their finest pieces while at the same time worrying about whether or not her haircut was up to par.

Als launched into a tender speech, delivered like a poem, beginning with, “I’m very nervous because I really love Annie and I don’t want to mess up.”

Multiple speakers noted that the museum, once called the Armand Hammer Museum, had morphed from a bland corporate organization into a vibrant cultural center under Philbin’s care. Halfway through the night, lang received a rousing standing ovation after singing a soulful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

The evening’s most raucous note came when comedian Ferrell made an unannounced cameo, striding up to the podium to declare that Philbin isn’t who she says she is, but rather a woman named “Tiffany Sullivan.”

“Let me tell you what the real Annie Philbin is like,” Ferrell said. “She was arrested twice at the Rose Bowl swap meet trying to sell Mark Bradford paintings. Often, she is seen walking around the museum with an empty martini glass in her hand, just licking works of art …. She once told Joni Mitchell that her music wasn’t good and that nothing good ever came from Canada.”

His jokes were followed by a slide show of Philbin accosting famous artists like David Hockney and Ellsworth Kelly in the Hammer men’s room.

“She is an H.R. nightmare,” Ferrell said, concluding, “Don’t be fooled by Annie. She’s never leaving this place. Just like Trump, she’s going to barricade herself inside her office and nationalize the National Guard.”

By the time Philbin took the stage, she was almost too emotional to speak. “I am not a pretty crier,” she said. “I am really ugly when I cry.”

Later, when the chocolate dome cake and white wine signaled the meal’s end, and the DJ cranked the music, Philbin was once again all smiles — hugging Los Angeles County Museum of Art Director Michael Govan and greeting a seemingly endless array of well wishers.

Outside the event, about 20 UCLA faculty members protested, calling for amnesty to be granted to pro-Palestinian students arrested on campus recently. Speakers, including Foster and Philbin, acknowledged acknowledged the Gaza protests.

The evening also included a DJ set by D-Nice and an art component by Pae White. Other attendees included Alexandra Hedison, Viveca Paulin Ferrell, Keanu Reeves, Alexandra Grant, Jane Fonda, Owen Wilson, Ava DuVernay, Rufus Wainwright, Dana Delany, Joel McHale and Julian Morris.

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