Does This Top City Really Need Another Art Museum Created by Wealthy Donors?

Another day, another new museum in Los Angeles.

The latest addition to the city's thriving arts scene is courtesy of Guess co-founder Maurice Marciano whose new museum is set to open in Spring 2017. The Marciano Art Foundation, a partnership between Maurice and his brother Paul, will be housed in L.A.'s landmark Scottish Rite Masonic Temple building, which the Marcianos purchased in 2013 for $8 million.

The foundation was primarily created to offer the public access to the brothers' collection of 1,500 contemporary works. What's more, at least according to the Wall Street Journal, little of the brothers' extensive collection has been previously exhibited publicly.

The sound you hear is the collective howls of frustration from acquisition directors everywhere as another trove of contemporary art is taken off the market forever. Such art is in scarce supply. And when collectors start their own museums rather than donate the work, or eventually sell it, the scarcity only worsens. Yet a growing number of wealthy collectors are choosing to do exactly that. 

You can see why, too. Top collectors don't want to donate their work only to have it parked in a cramped corner of a museum, or more likely, gathering dust in storage at an institution that already has more art than it can either exhibit or display. The LACMA has 150,000 pieces of art; MoMA has 200,000 pieces.  You can see why billionaire J. Tomilson Hill recently announced the launch of his own museum to house his $800 million collection. Where else will all his work be guaranteed to see the light of day? 

The same holds true for Maurice Marciano, who, back in 2013, told the New York Times, “A lot of art we have in storage, which is not the best thing at all, definitely not what you want.”

And so by opening their own museums, these collections can be viewed based on the specifications of their owners. In the case of the Marciano venture, museum admission will be free to the public, just like the Broad.

However, hours of operation are a still undetermined question. It's worth noting that back in 2013, Maurice Marciano said the museum would mostly not be open to the public daily, as it would require a sizable staff. Instead, he said, the museum might be open by appointment. (I imagine he's aware of the irony at play, as museums-by-appointment tend to defeat the purpose of maximizing public access to art gathering dust in storage).

From a wealthy collector's point of view, the logic of creating a new museum seems clear, but there's obviously another side of the coin, here: Is there really a market for another art museum in Los Angeles? The public's appetite for viewing art isn't limitless, and whenever a new museum arrives on the scene, existing institutions have to wonder about further fragmenting the audience for art. (Having newcomers undercut you on price, charging nothing, is a further reason to fret.)

It remains to be seen how things will play out with the Marcianos' new museum. But it's worth noting that visitors to the Broad during its first year were three times higher than what it had projected. So clearly, there is a big interest in art in Los Angeles, and the more museums the city has, the more it becomes a cultural destination for visitors around the world, a rising tide that lifts all boats

And what about Marciano? The Guess clothing company went public in 1996, and at the time, Marciano redoubled his focus on the company as its chairman and CEO, later sharing the role with his brother Paul. (In 2015, the company had revenues of $2.2 billion, with over 800 stores worldwide.) Yet, according to the Journal, he realized he missed art. "It’s so personal," he says, "but when you live with art, it becomes your environment. You see it every day, and I realized I felt an emotional attachment."

And so Marciano continued to immerse himself in the Southern California art scene. He's currently the co-chairman of MoCA's board. From this vantage point, Marciano clearly has a good sense of where a newcomer to L.A.'s museum might gain traction.  We don’t need another MOCA or Broad or Hammer Museum,” he told the Journal. “It has to be different, or why do it?”