A fast-moving controversy at the Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles that involved workers trying to unionize, layoffs, and the announcement of a temporary closure has come to a dramatic conclusion: the private museum saying that it now has no plans to reopen.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Marciano Art Foundation, which was founded by ARTnews Top 200 Collectors Maurice and Paul Marciano in 2013 and opened to the public in 2017, would close to the public indefinitely.
The museum had previously said it would be closed to the public after today, citing “low attendance.” Solo shows by artists Donna Huanca and Anna Uddenberg, which had been expected to run through December, ended their runs early as a result. Contacted about the closure, a representative for the Marciano Art Foundation sent the following statement: “We have no present plans to reopen.”
Yesterday, the museum laid off at least 60 employees. Many of them had been in the museum’s visitors services department, which protects artworks and offers information about the art on display to visitors. The layoffs came just days after 70 employees at the institution had announced a campaign to unionize, with plans to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 36, which includes workers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wage increases were among the Marciano employees’ demands.
It is still not clear what role the union drive played in the decision to let the employees go. On social media, the prospective union called the layoffs “a gross obstruction of workers’ rights.” A complaint had been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that oversees workers’ rights in America.
Eli Petzold, a member of the organizing committee for the union campaign, believes that the museum’s closure was directly related to the actions he and his colleagues had taken in the recent days. “My first reaction was shock, and my second was ‘That’s not true, that can’t be,’” he said. “It’s an illegal decision, and we’re not going to take it…. We will not be daunted, we will not be put in this corner.”
According to Petzold, as recent as last week, the museum was focused on future programming, readying new presentations of artworks and gearing up for Frieze Week in February. He said that the Marciano Art Foundation’s actions are in keeping with similar ones undertaken by Guess, a fashion company owned by the Marcianos. In 1997 the NLRB investigated Guess after it fired 20 employees who were involved in creating a union.
Set in a disused Masonic temple and designed by architect Kulapat Yantrasast, the private museum had become a go-to space for the blue-chip art that the Marcianos collect. “I think this will become one of the most important spaces for contemporary art in the whole country,” Jeffrey Deitch, the art dealer and one-time director of the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art, told the New York Times in 2013, when the Marcianos bought the space. Solo exhibitions by Ugo Rondinone, Jim Shaw, Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei, and more and have since been staged there.
“It felt great to have my work be seen in my city,” Frances Stark, a Los Angeles–based artist whose work was included in a group show of California artists at the Marciano Art Foundation earlier this year, told ARTnews. “Artists want their work to be seen by the public, and that’s what they did for me. I was grateful for that.”
Stark said that the seeing the Masonic temple on Wilshire Boulevard—an architectural landmark vested with layers of L.A. history—take on a new valence was important for her and others in the city. “As an Angeleno, that building is so special,” she said. “Having that building come to life was a big thing.”
As part of its programming, the Marciano Art Foundation showed permanent installations by Nicolas Party, Yayoi Kusama, and more. A representative for the museum did not immediately provide details about the fate of those works.
Update, November 7, 10:20 a.m.: This post has been updated to clarify that the museum has not definitively shuttered. It currently has no plans to reopen.
Update 11/06/2019, 9:00 p.m.: This article has been updated to include comments from Eli Petzold, a member of the organizing committee for the union campaign.
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