Ed Ruscha

In the week leading up to the Oscars, when lavish parties are as common as movie pitches, some of this year’s most coveted invitations are being extended not by film studios but L.A.’s museums and galleries. In fact, one could skip the industry shindigs altogether and still hang with some of Hollywood’s biggest power players. There are so many marquee events happening that it can practically be called the art world’s own unofficial Oscar week. Hollywood art collectors such as Brian Grazer, Steve Martin, Bob Shaye, CAA’s Beth Swofford and mega-lawyer Alan Hergott are regulars on the scene. This year, add the likes of Natalie Portman to the mix (she’s expected at a Feb. 23 invitation-only preview of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s exhibition of clothes by fashion label Rodarte, who did her Black Swan tutus), along with Scarlett Johansson (who’s hosting a live auction the same night for celeb-supported nonprofit The Art of Elysium) and, of course, art-world darling James Franco. The 127 Hours Best Actor nominee will be unveiling a new art/film collaboration with his Milk director Gus Van Sant — not in a theater but at Larry Gagosian’s Beverly Hills gallery.

It’s Gagosian, which agency chief/collector Bob Gersh calls “the most powerful gallery in the world,” that will be the highest-profile hub. In 1996, the New York-based dealer first started exhibiting during Oscar week and his splashy, celeb-packed openings — invariably followed by a private dinner at Mr. Chow — are now marked in pen on the industry’s social calendar right alongside Elton John’s or Graydon Carter’s awards-night soirees. The artists Gagosian showcases in this prime slot don’t get any more blue-chip: Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and, last year, Andreas Gursky, whose photo spectacular inaugurated the gallery’s Richard Meier-designed expansion.

“I always see the art world and the movie world as a singular community,” says Gagosian regular Donna Karan, who will also be co-hosting an exhibit, “Nomad Two Worlds,” with fashion photographer Russell James opening Feb 22.

Living up to his nickname, “Go-Go” Gagosian, who compares Oscar week to “Christmas in L.A.,” is throwing not one but three parties. On Feb. 25, the dealer and Franco will co-host a luncheon to celebrate an installation by artist Richard Prince at Gagosian’s modernist Holmby Hills mansion, which he bought as a West Coast residence in 2010 for $15. 5 million. (It was originally built for Gary Cooper.)

The main event though is a Feb. 24 preview for select guests of new paintings by Ed Ruscha. The prolific and groundbreaking Ruscha (“he was doing pop work before Andy Warhol and before Roy Lichtenstein,” says Gagosian) is in the collections of everyone from Michael Ovitz and Keanu Reeves, who recently commissioned a piece, to Sofia Coppola. The director placed a Ruscha lithograph, “Cold Beer Beautiful Girls,” in the Chateau Marmont suite inhabited by Johnny Marco, the lead character of Somewhere. “When I think of L.A., I think of him,” says Coppola of Ruscha. It’s the first time in 12 years that L.A.-based art superstar has exhibited in his hometown and, according to Gagosian director Candy Coleman, interest in the paintings (a ten-work series titled “Psycho Spaghetti Westerns”) has been “tremendous.”  Coleman won’t comment on prices, but one entertainment-world collector says the large-scale works, which explore themes of urban detritus and deterioration, are running close to a cool million.

It’s hard to believe Franco is going to have a single free moment before he co-hosts the Oscar telecast, but the renaissance man is due at Gagosian on Friday, Feb. 25, for a private screening of his work with Van Sant. The piece is essentially the actor’s recut of the director’s 1991 film My Own Private Idaho. “It’s the movie that made me want to act. It’s really one of the first times you had these popular actors, River and Keanu, dealing with gay themes,” says Franco, who drew on unused footage that Van Sant screened for him during a 2008 visit to Portland. Gucci sponsored the costs of digitizing the delicate work prints, and Franco spent a summer editing, with Van Sant’s approval. “I’m really proud of it,” he says of the hour-and-forty-minute cut that will screen through April 9 every two hours at the gallery, alongside a series of watercolor portraits by Van Sant.

When he’s not busy hosting parties, Gagosian also plans to hit the scene along with everybody else. “If you’ve got the energy you can do a lot,” says the gallerist. But there’s one place you’re definitely not going to find him: at the Oscars. “I’ve had no reason to go.”