Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sneak Peek @ Marciano Art Foundation's New Museum

With all the scaffolding finally down ($5k/week for over 1 year in rent I've been told) and the blessing of Los Angeles' Hancock Park neighbors, the Marciano Art Foundation (MAF) showcase has opened at the time of this writing.

The Millard Sheets - designed Scottish Rite Temple (1961), built to zoning limitations as a “clubhouse” like it’s neighbor the Wilshire Ebell, remains a singular mid-century “modern” masterpiece; inside there are still a number of Sheets' signature elements that have remained intact, including a really beautiful mosaic of a woodland scene.

There is an elegant, refined contemporary feel to the space -- not the warehouse feeling of the Geffen/Temporary Contemporary that opened MOCA -- that should serve the Marcianos' cultural, civic and philanthropic mission and vault L.A. (to whom they want to “give back”) deeper into the heart of the artworld's spotlight for years to come.

MAF is a fine example of gesamkunstwerk, a collective effort by artists, architects, collectors, curators and the general public conspiring to explore the past, present and future zeitgeists (is this even a word?) where in the past symbolism separated those who "know" and are "in" from those who don't and aren't. Cindy Sherman’s gigantic, almost ghostly image (of herself, of course!) commands the entrance, casting a most watchful eye instead of a typical museum ticket booth. Bewigged, as usual, she is regaled with the Odd Fellows' symbol of three golden links emblazoned on a uniform-esque Beverly Hill Baroque outfit. (Odd Fellowship is similar to the Masons as a civic group built upon ethical culture.) Is this all the MAF needs in terms of a security detail?

With four floors, including the Mez, there’s a total of 55,000 sq ft of exhibition space within seven galleries. A book store, operated by Artbook, is now open with the new catalog in stock; a cafe with limited menu is planned. 

I say Bravo to the Marciano brothers, founders of GUESS? brand of designer jeans and other "lifestyle" products. Maurice Marciano spoke on behalf of his brother/partner Paul, at the press briefing and introduced Kulipat Yantrassat, creative director and lead designer of wHY for the project. He stated that there were three goals to the effort to repurpose and renovate the very special building: 1/ to allow the artists to experiment, to create a vehicle that challenges them to make new work, 2/ to maintain the integrity of Sheets’ design, and 3/ with a bow to Robert Rauschenberg, to encourage collaboration among the artists and connect objects within the relatively recently acquired collection of 1500 works.  

Philipp Kaiser, curator of the inaugural exhibition Unpacking: The Marciano Collection, title of the inaugural exhibition, explained that from the get-go they invited participating artists to respond to the building, both to its former and future lives. The theoretical heart of Unpacking is sourced from an essay by German intellectual Walter Benjamin who, in 1931, wrote about the "chaotic potentiality inherent in unpacking and recontextualizing one’s collection of objects before they become tinged with ‘the mild boredom of order’." (In addition to Benjamin's treatise, I recommend reading Allen Weiss' newest title The Grain of the Clay: Reflecting on Ceramics and the Art of Collecting.)

As was well-publicized, many abandoned but still official Masonic costumes, wigs, photographs and other material found squirreled away in the building's many secret spaces now hold court in the Relic Room installed behind one of the stained glass dopeladler (two headed eagles) facing Wilshire Blvd. This display is curated by Susan L. Aberth, associate professor of Latin American Art at Bard College.

The idea of "artist as archaeologist" was at the foundation of the Foundation's inaugural installation; special emphasis is placed on "process and how it relates to the creation and execution of the work and the art object itself informed the opening exhibition".
 Artists vied for spaces in the new facility and some final touches were still underway when I was there.  While some of the works in the inaugural exhibition connect directly to the narrative of ancient symbolism, as does the Cindy Sherman piece, other works' theatricality reference the Mason's penchant for elaborate ritual, if not also incorporating some of these "found" objects, as does Jim Shaw's "The Wig Museum" installation.  

The former auditorium has been transformed into a huge gallery space and accommodates Shaw’s glorious pop-artish immersive environment, much like a stage set, which includes historic Masonic theatrical drapes and wigs, as well as his new work on scrims hanging from the extremely tall ceiling of what was the huge proscenium theatre audience chamber. One may wander at will through this fantastic forest of 2-D and 3-D images set up like so many paper doll cut-out scenarios. The effect allows, nay, insists on engagement. Bring a friend. Make up a story! (see below)

The Mez provides not only a view of the grand foyer, but leads to the former balcony from which one may view the Shaw installation as well as Adrian Villar Rojas Two Suns (II), a 17’ replica of Michelangelo’s David laid out in repose at what was the landing of the underbelly of the stage, now known as the “Black Box”. This provides yet an alternative view and create a new impression on the expansive work. (see images, below)

Other galleries feature artworks in a wide variety of media that do in fact seem to interact with each other (and demand more than the cursory look I could give them at the time). The artists are listed alphabetically in the sparse “guide” and include rooms featuring McCarthy/Murakami/Lawler, Kelley/Ruby, and Oehlen/Wool. The installations attempt to show “personal artistic relationships and reveal commonalities, admiration, and mutual respect within the art community”.

Two long-form video works captivated my attention. Ledge by Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin, is billed as a "unique sculptural theater" in a tent that fills the entire Lounge Gallery on the Second Floor. The multi-screen HD 49:24 minute experience is as much a "documentary" as it is a fictional account of what happened when they allow artists to go for it for 3 (in 2014) months in your some day to be refurbished space. Yes, there are wigs, loud music, drones and attitude. I've been told that recreational drugs are stronger these days.

Inferno by Yael Bartana, is provocative, cinematic epic set in Brazil with the “protagonist” being an exact replica of Solomon’s Temple (a bow to the Masons, again!) under construction in Sao Paolo by the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in the summer of 2014. ($300 million cost!) Filled with referential rituals and chanting from the Yom Kippur liturgy, the multi-racial, multi-generational faithful make their pilgrimage to reinstall the “ark of the covenant” and the 7-branch menorah (flying in via helicopter) to the holy of the holies III. No spoiler here, but be careful what you wish for.

While the Marcianos have been involved in LA's contemporary art scene, particularly through MOCA, there is no doubt that through MAF, these "new" kids on the block have very interesting ideas to share about culture, philanthropy and creativity infused with ethical instruction aimed at spiritual and moral self-improvement.

Admission to MAF is free by reservation only!!!! Only 80 people/hour may enter; times are every 15 minutes. There will be no lines around the corner. Free parking underneath. 

Images from Jim Shaw's installation "The Wig Museum"

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