Whitehot Magazine

"Unpacking" Inaugurates the Marciano Foundation with Style and Verve

El Anatsui: They Finally Broke the Pot of Wisdom, 2011. Found aluminum and copper wire, 186 x 276 inches. Installation view with Latifa Echakhch: Tannhauser, 2013. Backdrop of opera decors including wooden floor, MDF modules, spotlights, harps, 158 x 662 inches. Photo courtesy of the Marciano Art Foundation.

Unpacking: The Marciano Collection 

The Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles 

May 25 - December 24, 2017


The run-down elegance of the long-vacant Scottish Rite Masonic Temple loomed over the eastern end of Wilshire Blvd., a site of mystery and uncertainty whose blunt For Sale sign sparked decades of pipe dreams of the oh-what-I-could-do-with-that variety. Neglected no longer, the landmark is now the home of the Marciano Art Foundation, an impressive, lovingly and cunningly assembled collection of contemporary art by everyone you’ve ever heard of. But no matter how important and amazing the art is (which is very), the building will always be everyone’s favorite thing about visiting. 

Marciano Art Foundation exterior. Millard Sheets, 1961. wHY Architecture/Kulapat Yantrasast, 2017. Photo by Osceola Refetoff.

David Hammons: Untitled, 2010. Acrylic on canvas and tarp, 103 x 80 inches. Photo courtesy of the Marciano Art Foundation.

Designed by Millard Sheets in 1961, the temple features a plethora of luxe materials and architectural embellishments in formal, classical statuary, elaborate tiled mosaics, symbols, and patterns, and loads upon loads of brass and gold. The Foundation’s first and great blessing is the surgical execution of wHY Architecture’s Kulapat Yantrasast’s adaptive reuse renovation, which even kept intact a relic room and museum for the site’s history -- done with utmost sensitivity to the very best of the original structure’s character and most glorious features and truly constituting a destination even if it were empty.

Damian Ortega: Building #4, 2009. Unique structure, eroded bricks, metallic internal support, 84 x 53 x 61 inches. Installation view. Photo by Osceola Refetoff.

But it’s far from empty! Its debut features a few special exhibitions, including a mezzanine mural by Alex Israel; a lobby photo-mural by Cindy Sherman; a sort of film-pod yurt with a movie made on-site by Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Finch; a one-man show of recent, new, and site-specific work by Jim Shaw, The Wig Museum, in the mysterious rooms behind the lobby; and the first of what will be many rotating installations of the permanent collection, in the lofty top-floor galleries as well as in certain cozy spots throughout the various halls, lobbies, and side chambers. Shaw presents a survey of works in various mediums relating to his long-standing interest in subcultures, eccentric religions, and the ambitious, wry surrealism of American spectacle culture. The resulting experience is as zany and engaging as one could possibly expect.

Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum. Installation detail. Photo by Osceola Refetoff.

What’s more surprising is the restraint with which the permanent collection is introduced.

Unpacking: The Marciano Collection has been curated by Philipp Kaiser, who has a past at MOCA, draws from the Foundation’s collection of over 1,500 artworks, bringing together an international, multigenerational roster of artists who are among contemporary art’s leading creative and critical voices. There is a certain amount of pissing contest, deliberate choices here and there which seem to poke other local institutions -- Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Cindy Sherman, Christopher Wool, Mike Kelley, Sterling Ruby, El Anatsui -- but by and large it avoids cheap thrills and cheap shots and goes instead for the contemplative, poetic, and even, at least in a materialist sense, the reverential.

Mike Kelley: Memory Ware #60, 2010. Foam, tinted resin, found jewelry, coffee pot, plastic toys, 47 x 81 x 12 inches. Photo courtesy of the Marciano Art Foundation.

Organized around a loosely double theme referencing a Walter Benjamin essay about the joys of unpacking his library at the end of an arduous move, coupled with a vision of the artist as a kind of conceptual and sometimes physical archeologist as a way of referencing the venue’s context, still not nearly enough has been made of exceptional intelligence of the choices in terms of the literal art-making materials most heavily represented  -- wood, steel, concrete, marble, tile, wire, glass, brick, mortar, industrial foam, aluminum, ceramic, rope, cast resin, bronze, plaster, scaffolding, masonite, electricity. One simply could not imagine a dreamier assembly of abstract masonry-material works of art if they’d each been specially commissioned for the occasion. The take-away: go for the building, absorb the interior, pay attention to the world-class exhibitions, go outside and spend time with the building’s exterior, repeat. WM

Allora & Calzadilla with Glenn Ligon: Double America 2, 2014. Neon and paint, 48 x 145 inches. Installation view. Photo by Osceola Refetoff.

Shana Nys Dambrot

Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.

She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.


Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff


Follow Whitehot on Instagram 


view all articles from this author