The Marciano Art Foundation is a Welcome Addition to L.A.’s Eclectic Art Scene
Current exhibitions open May 25, 2017: Unpacking: The Marciano Collection through December 24, 2017 and Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum through September 17, 2017.
Written By Lorraine Heitzman | Photos by Stephen Levey
While the antics in Washington, D.C. play out with unknown consequences in a seemingly downward spiral, the art scene in Los Angeles is thriving and proliferating at an unprecedented rate. More venues are materializing in previously neglected areas of the city and Los Angeles’ engagement with the international art world continues to expand. Some of these recent galleries and museums are re-purposed buildings that have been neglected for years only to find new life as art spaces. (Think Hauser and Wirth, 14th Factory and the Main Museum) Add to that list the highly anticipated opening of the Marciano Art Foundation at the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple. Los Angeles is very fortunate to have the Marciano brothers as our city’s latest benefactors; not only have they preserved a fascinating, historic building, but they have generously made their collection accessible with free admission.
Maurice and Paul Marciano of Guess? Inc. have transformed the abandoned Masonic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard into a welcome destination for their vast art collection. Enlisting Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture and Design, the Millard Sheets designed building, completed in 1961, has been renovated into 55,000 square feet of exhibition space. Left intact are the original mosaics, the marble lobby and exterior decorative elements. Upon entering the building, you are greeted by a Cindy Sherman mural showing the artist in ceremonial garb from a fraternal organization. While not strictly a Freemason costume, it serves to welcome the visitor to the former Scottish Rite Temple and hints at the duplicities at work throughout the museum. The colorful past is acknowledged both reverently and with humor just as the work on view ranges from the personal to historical with multiple levels of expression and interpretation.
During a recent press preview Maurice Marciano explained his desire to create an artist’s playground rather than a museum, a place that would challenge both artists and visitors alike. The Marciano brothers were inspired by Los Angeles artists through extensive studio visits and hoped to give them a forum and the freedom to make art. Their contemporary collection is international though and counts paintings, sculptures, installations, videos and photography among their collection of more than 1500 artworks by more than 200 artists.
Philipp Kaiser was selected two years ago to guest curate the inaugural exhibits: Unpacking: The Marciano Collection and Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum. Unpacking, which fills the third floor galleries, the second floor Lounge Gallery as well as part of the ground floor, reveals a collection with an emphasis on contemporary artists. Compared to the inaugural Broad Museum exhibition, the Marciano collection reflects a different perspective. Whereas the Broad Museum show felt like a blue chip portfolio, this selection skews younger and more contemporary with less focus on the most established artists. Don’t expect risky choices though; these are still largely successful artists working in the mainstream with works that are scaled to expansive white galleries.
Several themes are evident throughout the show; many artworks conjure up a sense of place and the process of unearthing while others address the creative process. The third floor Ballroom Gallery is dominated by Latifa Echakhch’s Tanhäuser, a recreation of a 1955 opera set comprised of several elongated wooden arches. Echakhch uses the architectural motifs out of their original context to evoke a mysterious tableau with a Bauhaus sensibility wrapped in a surreal de Chirico-like landscape. There are two Mike Kelley sculptures, Kandor 18B and City 20, paintings by Jonas Wood, and a supersized political tapestry by Goshka Macuga. Valet Parking, Alex Israel’s wall paintings around the mezzanine are meticulous renderings of California flora alongside prosaic elements of a less glam manmade environment. But large abstract paintings have the most real estate here; perhaps indicative of the collection or else in contrast to Jim Shaw’s more narrative installations and sculpture oriented show, The Wig Museum downstairs. Much space is devoted to Mark Grotjahn, Christopher Wool, Sterling Ruby, Taksahi Murakami and Albert Oehlen.
The second floor houses Ledge, a video installation by Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin that was made in the Masonic Lodge prior to the renovation, and tucked into a corner of the mezzanine is The Relic Room: Masonic Objects, a wonderfully curious collection of Masonic oddities curated by Susan l. Aberth.
On the first floor, in what was once a theater for the Freemason’s productions, Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum commands the space in operatic fashion. Long overdue, this is the most comprehensive show of Shaw’s work on the West Coast, including work from many periods of his career. Creating the Wig Museum, Shaw seamlessly meshes the Masons’ props with his work, appropriating wigs and painted scrims that the Scottish Rite Masons had left behind from their own productions. That Shaw has used both backdrops and wigs in his work before made him a serendipitous choice for the MAF’s first exhibition. With forty-foot ceilings, the space easily accommodates his larger artworks and the choice to keep it dark eliminates the confines of the space. The black walls allow for a more immersive experience than what was seen in New York at his New Museum show and generally the elements of his set pieces integrate more successfully here. As always, Jim Shaw entertains us while questioning our culture and human nature in a critical but humorous light. He possesses a great sensitivity and affection for our foibles and calls out our vanities and weaknesses with a generous goodwill.
A stunning sculpture in its own right, Two Suns (II) by Adrián Villar Rojas is beautifully installed directly behind The Wig Museum in the Black Box, ground floor gallery. A large replica of Michelangelo’s David in repose, the serene figure flips between life and decay, literally upending the sculpture into a contemporary vernacular. In another example of the curator’s sensitivity to the relationships between art, David also speaks to the mythological, biblical figures, and superheroes that Shaw represents for a clever juxtaposition and alignment between two very different artists.
To visit the Marciano Art Foundation, reservations must be made in advance. Go for the architecture. Stay for the art!
Artists represented in Unpacking: The Marciano Collection: El Anatsui, Yael Bartana, Walead Beshty, Huma Bhabha, Carol Bove, Allora & Calzadilla, Trisha Donnelly, Latifa Echakhch, Cyprien Gaillard, Mark Grotjahn, Wade Guyton, David Hammons, Thomas Houseago, Alex Israel, Rashid Johnson, Mike Kelley, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Glenn Ligon, Goshka Macuga, Paul McCarthy, Paul & Damon McCarthy, Takashi Murakami, Albert Oehlen, Damian Ortega, Laura Owens, Philippe Parreno, Charles Ray, Sterling Ruby, Analia Saban, Jim Shaw, Cindy Sherman, Paul Sietsema, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Lizzie Fitch / Ryan Trecartin, Oscar Tuazon, Kaari Upson, Adrián Villar Rojas, Danh Vo, Kelley Walker, Mary Weatherford, Franz West, Jonas Wood, Christopher Wool.
Admission is free to all exhibitions and programs, but reservations are a necessity. Visit https://marcianoartfoundation.org for more information.
Unpacking and Jim Shaw Photo Essays Below:
Unpacking: The Marciano Collection through December 24, 2017
Photo Essay by Stephen Levey
Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum through September 17, 2017
Photo Essay by Stephen Levey