The Marciano Art Foundation LA’s Newest Art Museum Unpacked

This spring, the latest addition to the expanding Los Angeles art scene will open its doors to the public. The Marciano Art Foundation, founded by Guess? co-founders Paul and Maurice Marciano, boasts in excess of 1,500 artworks by more than 200 artists dating from the 1990s to the present. Housed within a Scottish Rite Temple, the museum will exhibit painting, sculpture, film, performance, mixed-media works and site-specific installations by established, mid-career and emerging artists. The Foundation will offer free admission, but visitors will have to make reservations online for specific admission slots. The Marciano Brothers want to offer visitors the opportunity to “engage with the enriching and transformative power of contemporary art.”

The Art Foundation’s mission is intimately braided into the physical fabric of the building itself. Originally designed by artist, designer and educator Millard Sheets, and renovated by California-based architectural firm wHY Architecture, the Scottish Rite Masonic temple, located on Wilshire Boulevard just west of Crenshaw, is an imposing marble structure with few windows, evoking a sense of impenetrable secrecy common in the design of Masonic temples across the country. Built in 1960, it has sat largely vacant since 1994. (In 2002, a Masonic heritage museum occupied the second floor of the building, but its public use was limited.) The Marciano brothers purchased the space in 2013.

Of all the aspects of the Foundation’s mission, its focus on site-specific commissions most distinguishes it from that of other LA public art spaces. By creating an art space and works intended for the building and a Los Angeles audience, the museum sets itself apart as one that is woven into the historic design context and culture of the City of Los Angeles. “The Marciano Collection is eclectic in a very positive sense. It mirrors Los Angeles,” explained Curator Phillip Kaiser.

The Museum opens its doors on May 25 with two concurrent inaugural exhibitions: Unpacking: The Marciano Collection, a focused presentation of the Collection’s holdings, and Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum, the artist’s first major solo exhibition on the West Coast. Designating half of the Foundation’s inaugural program to an artist long established within the cultural and artistic fabric of LA, recognizes Shaw as an important figure within the community’s artistic canon, while clearly representing the significance of the city itself within contemporary art history. Kaiser — former senior curator at MoCA LA —explained his choice of Shaw for the museum opening: “Jim’s interest in conspiracy theory, subcultures, and the masonic world made him the right artist to me, to work with for the first exhibit.” Shaw, known for his use of mixed media, pop culture iconography and larger-than-life installations, will present all new work for the exhibition. His installation will be site-specific and self-aware, incorporating many found objects and relics from the Masons who occupied the building for more than 30 years prior to its renovation, again articulating the significance of the building in its new role as contemporary art space. “His show acts as an exhibit within an exhibit, and highlights the commitment and willingness of the Marciano Foundation to commission new works for this fantastic new site,” said Kaiser.

Unpacking will feature a select sample of the Collection’s holdings, including works by artists including Paul McCarthy, Louise Lawler, David Hammons, Sterling Ruby, Mike Kelley, Adrián Villar Rojas, Analia Saban, Cyprien Gaillard and Latifa Echakhch The concept of the exhibit is taken from the essay, Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting, by cultural critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, which focused on the author’s passion for book-collecting. Benjamin wrote, “… what I am really concerned with is giving you some insight into the relationship of a book collector to his possessions, into collecting rather than a collection.” The exhibit will address notions of what it means literally to unpack and reorder the possessions within one’s personal canon, re-contextualizing them in the company of others. The exhibit, like the essay, will “ … look at the relationship between objects that may upon first glance seem unrelated but through the vision of a collector make perfect sense,” Kaiser said, “Unpacking creates loose connections and threads that feature the notion of process, but also focuses on an archaeological impulse that has been influential for many young contemporary artists.”

The exhibition is intended to provide insight about the artworks themselves, as well as what it means for a work to be part of a collection. “Collectors are people with a tactical instinct,” wrote Benjamin. Unpacking promises to be a quintessential inaugural show, and may serve to re-introduce the Marciano Brothers to the public, just as much as it will introduce the artwork that comprises their collection. Benjamin went on to write, “…the most distinguished trait of a collection will always be its transmissibility.” Here, he refers to a collection’s potential to be inherited. But in art, as in literature, a work’s didactic transmission is not merely contained in the art object alone. The museum, like any cultural institution, has always been a symbol of knowledge — a place where opinions and perspectives are explored and discovered. The Marciano Foundation proposes to be an arbiter of this same ideological exchange.

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