All these years I’ve been driving by this immense white elephant of a structure on Wilshire Boulevard wondering what was inside.
Now I know. It's become the Marciano Art Foundation Building a/k/a the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple.
And it’s marvelous.
I hesitated before going because from what I had read, it had become just another, yawn, private museum.
But the Temple, 1961, from SoCal native artist/architect Millard Sheets was, is, a wondrous thing and to the immense credit of Paul and Maurice Marciano, a/k/a Guess, it has been revamped to house their contemporary art collection.
How successful have they been?
First the architecture: Luckily, Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architects left enough of the raw material so that we can see what ‘splendor’ meant in 1961. It is hulking, marble, adorned with over-the-top Albert Stewart statuary of Masonic figures, gold wall tiles, gold drinking fountains, ambitious mural work, multi-colored flooring, everything we associate with Los Angeles. Why it’s a miracle that the gold Oscar statues are not also on display. (Bisazza—the closest thing in contemporary tile, should come and have a look and license these.) And now that so many of the buildings from that era are at risk, (e.g. , the Ahmanson pavilion at LACMA with which it shares some stylistic flourishes), we need to embrace what is left of our paltry architectural heritage here in LA and applaud those who see the potential. Christopher Hawthorne, our new design czar, take heed!
I am sorry I missed the opening Jim Shaw show which contained a number of scrims that the Masons had used for their high/low performative works that showed off their magical thinking. Alas, a curator actually allowed Jim Shaw to paint over them in his work. Shame! Also a shame that what looks to have been a very appealing theater where the performances were held was torn down for fashionably large art installations. But ok: this is an art space not a theater space. Still, I long to program a series of dance performances that utilize these amazing backdrops which are being stored somewhere, at least that.
Another problem: A large, freestanding wall has been built at the end of the permanent galleries totally obscuring the amazing Millard Sheets wall-sized mosaic behind, next to which the big, pretty art in the room rather pales. Maybe that was intentional.
Which brings me to the art: it's pretty. Some of it is accomplished, the names are right. But in this big gallery space, it all begins to meld. It's colorful,large-scale, patterned and in the end the artists are not served by being hung in such even proximity to each other. It leaves you with the feeling of a big meal, but not an especially refined one. If the Broad is blue chip this is potato chip. Eating but not dining etc.
Currently into the vast former theater space is Olafur Eliasson's Reality Projector. I admire Olafur Eliasson, and his work, and his big thinking, but this is not his best piece and instead comes across as something that would have better re-purposed as an Anni Albers-style tapestry or a Frank Lloyd Wright designed fabric as it resembles them both.
The Marcianos have been wise and created a library filled with Masonic literature, memorabilia, clothing, and explanatory material.I remembered that Mozart, Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer, Darryl F. Zanuck, and Walt Disney were Masons. It’s a rather diverse list combining youthful 17th century composers, gay 20th century directors and autocratic studio owners.
I think there is something in the all-male, secret society Mason thing that may have spoken to the Marcianos. From their very own website,
“The great appeal of the Scottish Rite Temple might have been the freedom men felt—among their “brothers” and within the “safe spaces” of the lodge where all were sworn to secrecy—to rid themselves of the restrictive one-dimensionality of conventional public demonstrations of masculinity.”
As brother Paul has recently been accused of being something of a not-so-secret sexual predator, they might want to re-think this text.
Nonetheless: Bravo to the Marcianos for thinking big and saving us from yet another loss.