Labor Organizers Have Filed a Complaint Against the Marciano Art Foundation Over Its Abrupt Closure in the Wake of Unionization Efforts

Artists Frances Stark and Sadie Barnette are publicly condemning the foundation’s move.

Paul Marciano (left) and Maurice Marciano. Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for GUESS?.
Paul Marciano (left) and Maurice Marciano. Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for GUESS?.

Los Angeles labor organizers have filed a complaint against the Marciano Art Foundation after the museum abruptly closed last week. The museum had previously laid off all its visitor services staff—some 70 people—just days after employees announced plans to unionize. The museum cited low attendance as the reason for its closure.

Marciano Art Foundation Union organizers, who were attempting to join the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, filed the complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the museum of illegal union busting practices in retaliation for the efforts to unionize.

The foundation “has illegally discriminated against its employees by laying off employees en masse and/or closing its facility,” the complaint says, as reported by the New York Times. Federal law prohibits the suspension or firing of workers who engage in union activity.

Brothers Paul and Maurice Marciano, co-founders of the Guess fashion brand, opened the private museum in 2017 to house their contemporary art collection. It is free and open to the public with advance reservations, and has held exhibitions of work by artists including Jim Shaw, Ai Weiwei, and Glenn Ligon. The closure, which the museum describes as indefinite, shuttered temporary exhibitions by Donna Huanca and Anna Uddenberg, as well as ongoing projects from Catherine Opie, Nicolas Party, and Yayoi Kusama.

“[The museum closure] shows that they would rather shut down a ‘public service’ institution than raise wages a dime—or raise pay a dime above minimum wage,” one of the laid-off workers, Spencer Longo, told the Los Angeles Times.

A number of the dismissed employees demonstrated outside the shuttered museum on Friday, where they were joined by workers from other museums. “We have other actions in the works,” Izzy Johnson, a docent who serves on the union’s organizing committee, told the Los Angeles Times.

Visitor services staff at the museum received a minimum wage of $14.25 an hour and were responsible for welcoming guests, taking tickets, and discussing art with visitors. Representatives of the union, the National Labor Relations Board, and the foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

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

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

So far, two artists, Sadie Barnette and Frances Stark, have publicly expressed solidarity with the staffers. Barnette, whose work is currently on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, wrote on Instagram: “In a moment where ‘the wealth gap’ is actually a part of the public discourse, the Marciano Art Foundation had an opportunity to take a tiny step in the right direction by supporting the workers, but instead took an unabashedly anti-union stance by firing employees.”

Stark, too, posted on Instagram about the “heartbreaking news,” saying that museum workers and adjunct art school professors are “being taken advantage of by powerful players unwilling to negotiate for a more humane ecology.”

Marciano Art Foundation director Jamie Goldblatt Manné resigned in March, leaving the two Marciano brothers to solely operate the nonprofit, which does not have a board, officers, or trustees.

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