Maurice Marciano | Hiding Out at the Masonic Temple, Where Anything Goes

by Shana Nys Dambrot

   Maurice Marciano  | photos by Ian Morrison | Fashion credits:   ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA COUTURE  coat and  JOSETTE & BERNARD  hat.

Maurice Marciano | photos by Ian Morrison | Fashion credits: ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA COUTURE coat and JOSETTE & BERNARD hat.


Maurice Marciano is like a kid in a candy store—if the candy was made from the world’s most exciting and acclaimed contemporary art. And if he and his brother owned the store. And if the store was a landmark Masonic temple renovated by visionary architect Kulapat Yantrasast to begin a new life as an anything-goes safe space for artistic experimentation. The Marciano Art Foundation’s doors have been open for a year now, after four years of construction—rather longer than he and his brother Paul anticipated when they made their move. “At times it was so frustrating,” says Maurice, “but it has all been so worth it!”

The Guess founders have been collecting contemporary art at a major international scale for years, regularly lending to institutions and serving on museum boards. So great was their impulse to show their expansive collection (and their need for the space to do so) that their offices and even their sprawling HQ compound in DTLA were bursting with treasures. They decided to open their own—well, not a gallery certainly, but not quite a museum either. It’s something much more innovative, and much more important. “We refuse to call it a museum,” insists Maurice. “It’s a foundation. It’s what we see, and what we love.” About five or six years ago, Maurice, like everyone else, drove by this ornate, regal, mysterious building on Wilshire Blvd (a 1961 Millard Sheets designed Masonic Temple) and fantasized about what might be inside, and what someone could do with it. One day the artist Alex Israel somehow made the connection, and the rest is becoming history before our eyes. “I’m so happy about the transformation,” Maurice says. “Tearing it down would have been a shame. We didn’t touch anything on the outside and we preserved as much inside as we possibly could. Just the building itself is a work of art!”

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That it is, with exquisite tile mosaics inside and out, statuary, stained glass, and myriad architectural details that warrant preservation and spotlighting. But now it is also home to several exhibition spaces, each with its own unique character. A wide and bright series of large white- cube galleries, a marbled lobby, a smaller scale project space, and a vast and truly temple-like theatrical hall, complete with catwalk and lighting rigs. Starting on March 1, all of these spaces will house their share of a new slate of exhibitions. Artists Albert Oehlen and Peppi Bottrop will show collaborative mixed media works in the Lounge Gallery, Olafur Eliasson in the lobby and theater, along with what will be the third rotation of the permanent collection—only about ten percent of which can be seen in the galleries at one time. Maurice has a giant storyboard of the whole collection in his office, with every piece in miniature on one huge wall, like the world’s fanciest flowchart.

Maurice is sitting in this office now, and the morning light is filtering through one of the building’s famous stained glass windows. “This makes me think about Olafur Eliasson. He was inspired by this building too,” he muses. Set to open March 1, all Maurice will say about the upcoming exhibition, titled Olafur Eliasson: Reality Projector, is that it’s going to be an ambitious sound and light installation in the completely empty space. “Olafur first came way back at the start, when we were still doing demolition. It was literally a hard-hat tour; the floors were dug up and sloping. He said, ‘I’m inspired! Can I do something here?’ and I couldn’t believe it! He volunteered! This, by the way, is why I love that it’s a private foundation, just my brother and me, no board. Things can happen organically. We aren’t programmed years ahead; we don’t have to be so rigid. We can be available for artists, like it’s their space, a forum.”

The theater space is quirky (to say the least), but in an art world of white cubes, it seems artists are inspired by its uniqueness, clamoring for a chance to work with the building. Unlike the museums down the road, the Marciano Art Foundation is intentionally a space for interpretation and creation—a new living, beating heart invigorating the LA art community. “They are dying to work in there. When we started we didn’t even know what we would find inside. We sort of planned to gut it and make a big white box—but as we did the demolition, we just couldn’t do it!” Marciano says, still giddy about how far they’ve come. “Olafur is using all of that now. He is one of the most creative, talented, most genius artists working today. The way he transforms spaces themselves, the volume—he takes you into another world, a different world, his world. He wanted the whole thing to be an experience right from the time you step inside, so he will create an immersive space and experience there—feeling, in fact, like a temple!”

It’s clear that Maurice’s favorite aspect of the Foundation is enabling the artists he loves to explore and create. “Jim Shaw’s show was the best show he’s ever done. We are so proud. An LA artist who never had a show like that here before. And then Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin came to us and said, ‘Can we film in here for two or three days?’ And they stayed for four months! It was during demolition so we pretty much let them do whatever they wanted. Now their work (which was shown as part of the foundation’s inauguration) is part of the history of the building,” Maurice says. As for the unique Oehlen and Bottrop collaboration, it seems that was another organic idea. Bottrop loved the space, and he and Oehlen have shown together before, and they just asked. The Marcianos collect Oehlen in depth, and his work was featured in the inaugural show. “I really love him,” says Maurice. “He is another of our era’s great artists. Bottrop I’ve not worked with before. But they have these wonderful ideas about old and new, past and future, digital and analog, line and space. They are using old computers, and site-inspired line drawings—it’s all very exciting!” Indeed it is—for the Marcianos, for the artists, and for the entire city of LA.


Written by Shana Nys Dambrot
Photographed by Ian Morrison