In defiance of the economic catastrophe that’s accompanied the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, art world titan Larry Gagosian has closed a deal to take up occupancy in a portion of the now defunct Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles. Beginning in January of 2021, the international gallerist will launch programming in what’s called the Grand Theater Gallery on the first floor of the gigantic 90,000-square-foot former Masonic hall. Gagosian has staked out about 13,000 square feet of the place, so his new digs will be slightly bigger than the almost 12,000-square-foot gallery he currently operates and will continue to maintain in Beverly Hills.
Built in 1961 and designed by artist, designer and educator Millard Sheets, once director of the Otis Art Institute, the hulking structure on Wilshire Boulevard, in the swank Windsor Square neighborhood, is clad in marble and hand-picked travertine sourced from an Italian quarry outside Rome. A large mosaic that depicts the history of temple building adorns one end of the building, and a series of fourteen-foot high travertine figures by sculptors Albert Stewart and John Edward Svenson depict the history of the Masons, one of the oldest, largest and most secretive fraternal organizations in the world.
Maurice and Paul Marciano, who have both bought and sold a number of multi-million dollar homes in some of L.A.’s finest zip codes — Maurice sold a Beverly Hills mansion in 2015 for more than $47 million to casino magnate Steve Wynn and moved to a $20.8 million house in the Trousdale Estates neighborhood. Paul, on the other hand, presides over Beverly Hills in an ultra-modern mansion he custom built on two plum pieces of property he bought in 2007 for $17.1 million and purchased a good portion of their vast art collection from Gagosian, whose L.A. home was purchased in 2010 for $15.5 million from tech entrepreneur and philanthropist David Bohnett. So, the three of them are long-time colleagues who all know a thing or two about moving high-priced product.
Sons of an Orthodox rabbi, the Marcianos grew up poor in Marseilles, in the south of France, and made their fortune with Guess Jeans, an apparel company they started in 1981 with two other brothers, which helped launch the career of late model Anna Nicole Smith. The fashion tycoons learned to be notoriously tough negotiators at Guess, then turned their attention to the visual arts, buying the former Masonic hall in 2013 for $8 million and eventually opening the Marciano Art Foundation in May of 2017. Less than three years later, they abruptly closed the place when employees attempted to unionize in November of 2019.
Famously wily and a tough negotiator himself, Gagosian is a good match for the Marcianos. And, as for Gagosian’s attempt to expand his contemporary art empire in the midst of the pandemic? All I can say is, God bless him.