The Marciano Brothers Are Closing Their Huge Private Museum in Los Angeles Indefinitely as Staff Fight to Unionize

The decision comes amid layoffs of front-of-house staff, who were seeking to unionize.

Exterior of the Marciano Art Foundation. Photo by Julian Calero.
Exterior of the Marciano Art Foundation. Photo by Julian Calero.

Los Angeles’s newest and most troubled private museum, the Marciano Art Foundation, will remain closed indefinitely after its sudden shuttering earlier this week. The surprise announcement comes after layoffs and as its founders fight front-of-house staff who are seeking union status.

The Los Angeles Times first reported on Wednesday that the huge gallery in a former Masonic hall and theater on Wilshire Boulevard has “no present plans to reopen.” The move comes less than two years after the collectors and fashion tycoons Maurice and Paul Marciano opened their private museum. Around 600 VIPs, including a host of leading artists and curators, attended its gala launch in May 2017.

The foundation previously told the press that it was closing due to “low attendance.” This has been challenged by critics who point out that entrance to the art museum is free. The vague wording of “no present plans” leaves open the possibility that the founders’ move may be a tactical one.

The Marciano Art Foundation is one of the most impressive new private museums to open in the US. It includes permanent installations by in-demand artists, such as Nicolas Party and Yayoi Kusama. In addition to presenting works from the brothers’ collection by the likes of Ugo Rondinone and Doug Aitken, the museum has also mounted well-reviewed solo exhibitions including the first major LA show of artist Jim Shaw as well as an epic Ai Weiwei exhibition. The Chinese artist filled the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple’s theater with piles of broken ceramics, sunflower seeds, and a menagerie of beasts made with traditional Chinese kite-making materials.

 

News of the indefinite closure comes as all eyes were on the institution. On Tuesday, at least 60 staffers were laid off, according to reports, just four days after 70 employees announced a campaign to unionize. The part-time workers, who were from visitor services—including gallery attendants and museum docents—were seeking a wage increase among other demands related to job security and scheduling. They were fighting to establish the Marciano Art Foundation Union with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

“United by this belief in the dignity of our work, we’re coming together in one voice,” the union wrote in a letter to management. The union has called the layoffs and sudden shuttering an “obstruction of worker’s rights” on social media. The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees workers’ rights in America, is set to investigate the Marciano Arts Foundation, according The Hollywood Reporter.

The Marciano Art Foundation insists the layoffs and subsequent decision to close is due strictly to low attendance. The sudden closure means an exhibitions by Berlin-based artists Donna Huanca and Anna Uddenberg ended a month earlier than planned.

It is not the first time the Marciano brothers have been embroiled in a labor dispute. In 1997, their fashion brand Guess Jeans had to restore the positions of 20 employees who claimed to have been fired for trying to organize a union.


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