Co-Founders of Guess Evolve into Contemporary Art Patrons ; Marciano Brothers to Open a Museum to Showcase Their Collection

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Having transformed bluejeans into high fashion, Maurice and Paul Marciano are seeking to remake their own legacies as patrons and collectors of contemporary art with a museum in Los Angeles.

The Guess clothing headquarters downtown here -- once a humble distribution center, where stonewashed jeans were shipped around the country -- looks more like an art gallery these days. Paintings by luminaries like Sterling Ruby and Carroll Dunham hang beside the famously sexy Guess billboard ads. And Mr. Ruby even stopped by to install a sculpture personally.

There is much, much more art at the nearby homes of Maurice and Paul Marciano, two of the four brothers who founded Guess in 1981. After several years of frenzied buying, they have run out of space to display their growing art collections. "A lot of art we have in storage," Maurice Marciano said, laughing and shaking his head, "which is not the best thing at all, definitely not what you want."

Having transformed workaday denim bluejeans into must-have items of high fashion at Guess, Maurice and Paul Marciano are now seeking to remake their own legacies as pre-eminent patrons and aggressive collectors of contemporary art.

Last month, the Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation paid $8 million to buy an opulent former Masonic temple on Wilshire Boulevard, which they plan to turn into a private museum. In addition to housing their collection, Maurice Marciano said the museum would also host exhibitions by local artists with the hope that they will design work especially for this space. And work space may be created for an artist in residence.

"There is such a vibrant, vibrant art community in L.A., with so many artists living here," Mr. Marciano added. "Artists who would not necessarily have a big exhibition at a well-established museum. That really inspired us to have a space where we could give a forum to these young artists to exhibit their art."

With some of the top art schools in the country, a forgiving climate, decent rents and a quality of light that has enticed creative types for decades, Los Angeles has in recent years become a hub for young artists.

The museum is a declaration of the brothers' growing ambition and influence in the city's art scene -- a bold step for the family, which has shunned the limelight in recent years (Paul Marciano would not speak for this article), following an ugly fight with investors over control of Guess in the 1980s and prolonged public criticism of the company's labor practices in the 1990s.

"Los Angeles has this amazing creative energy right now, and Maurice's project is going to be part of it," said Jeffrey Deitch, who recently resigned as the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art here. "I think this will become one of the most important spaces for contemporary art in the whole country. This is making a big statement about our time."

Certainly, the space will be a striking addition to the contemporary art landscape in Los Angeles. The Masonic temple was designed by Millard Sheets, the Southern California architect and muralist. It served the Masons from 1961 to 1994 and has been on and off the real estate market since. The brothers hope it can be open within 18 months, once they have finished renovating the first floor of the building, which fell into disrepair.

But who will be able to visit the Marciano museum, and when, remains unclear. At least initially, Maurice Marciano said, it will not be open to the public daily, which would require a sizable staff. Instead, he said, the museum might be open by appointment.

Despite general enthusiasm here about the prospect of another major contemporary art space, several artists and collectors expressed concern about the growing prevalence of private institutions, which are harder for the public to access.

"I think it's great; or potentially great," John Baldessari, an artist and a former teacher at the University of California at Los Angeles, said of the project. …