When is 100 Million Porcelain Sunflower Seeds Art? When Ai Weiwei Says So, at One of LA’s Newest Museums

By Mike Szymanski

Yep, the doors open to an ocean of porcelain, hand-made sunflower seeds. It took 1,600 artisans a year-and-a-half to create, and there they were, strewn in a room the size of an indoor soccer field.

Not just sunflower seeds, nearby there was a pit of broken tea pot spouts, and above flew white dragons made of bamboo and silk.

Welcome to the world of c.

In spring of 2017, the Marciano Art Foundation (https://marcianoartfoundation.org) opened up at the impressive Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard in the Windsor Square neighborhood of Los Angeles, where the Mayor’s Mansion is, and where other celebs like Mae West, Clark Gable and Nat King Cole used to call home.

Open free to the public, the wild-and-crazy exhibits do require reservations to prevent overcrowding. And, you don’t want to trip over some of the artwork. A few twisted pipes were on the floor with broken sunglasses on top and it took a while to realize it was a piece of art representing the roadways of the city. Another scratch-and-sniff portrait has a long line waiting for it, as does the line to see Ai Weiwei’s dragons up close.

Through March 2019, the LifeCycle exhibit of this dissident Chinese artist remains at the museum.

At one time, people could walk over the sunflower seeds, but the dust kicked up by the porcelain created a health hazard. Sometimes, people were allowed to walk away with a souvenir of a handmade seed, but that got out of hand, so it’s now forbidden.

The stark simplicity of a tapered floor of seeds is humbling, and the broken spouts, some dating back to the Song Dynasty of 960 A.D. makes you think of broken smiles, as if laughter and free speech are being suppressed.

The artist sees the display as a response to the global refugee crisis, and it’s centered with a life-sized bamboo boat like the ones used by those trying to escape their countries and seek a new world.

Mixing Chinese mythology and present politics, Weiwei remains a controversial artist. He was arrested by Chinese authorities in 2011 for three months and prohibited from leaving the country. Now, he has considered relocating to the United States, but as recently as a few weeks ago said he thinks he may not want to do so because of the Trump administration’s callousness toward refugees.

My two nephews, 16 and 23, loved the exhibit and found it overwhelming and perplexing.

The museum has four levels, which includes a bookstore and a modest coffee shop. Even the docents suggest that viewers begin their tour from the top of the museum, where you can see a stunning view of the HOLLYWOOD sign and the hills from an outdoor patio.

The top floor holds a theme of the Mad World, which amplifies absurdities and multi-media displays. A video plays of a young man singing, and around it are classroom furniture pieces showing how the artist was obsessed by this singer in his youth. Another painting features Elvira, the B-movie scream queen hostess, and a display of funny products like in a pharmacy.

The artists include Nina Chanel Abney, Kathryn Andrews, Andrea Bowers, André Butzer, Merlin Carpenter, Anne Collier, Alex Da Corte, Sam Durant, Roe Ethridge, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Urs Fischer, Mark Flood, Tom Friedman, Nikolas Gambaroff, Evan Holloway, Alex Hubbard, Juliana Huxtable, Mike Kelley, Jim Lambie, Nate Lowman, Christian Marclay, Jill Mulleady, Nicolas Party, Oliver Payne an many more.

One display by Yayoi Kusama allows you to walk into the exhibit of red polka dots. You must first put a protective footie around your shoes and then can enter the exhibit and be overwhelmingly a part of it all.

Called, “With All My Love For The Tulips, I Pray Forever,” this Japanese artist creates a world of oversized flowerpots where the human going through it are the plants to display.

The museum is a real treat for people who think they know everything about Los Angeles. Brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano moved from France to Los Angeles after hitting it big with their denim fashion line, GUESS? They began collecting art and wanted to share it with the world, and bought this long-abandoned Masonic Temple that was in major disrepair.

One of my favorite sections is the area where they found costumes, books and photographs of the Masons who abandoned the building in 1994. The treasure trove of lodge memorabilia is as much a piece of Los Angeles history, showing a surprising mix of racial diversity and an insight into the medieval pageants, costumes and a secret rituals of a group that once had Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson among its members.

“This is everything we enjoy in life and we want to share it with everyone,” says brother Maurice Marciano. It’s nice that he has in a big way.



Ai Weiwei: Life Cycle

September 28, 2018 – March 3, 2019


Marciano Art Foundation
4357 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90010

(424) 204-7555



About Marciano Art Foundation

The Marciano Art Foundation was established by Maurice and Paul Marciano to grant the public access to the Marciano Art Collection through presentations of rotating, thematic exhibitions housed in a permanent exhibition space in Los Angeles.

The collection contains works by well-established, mid-career and emerging artists, predominantly from the 1990s to present. It is the Marcianos’ desire to share such forward-thinking and dynamic artworks with Los Angeles—their home for the past 35 years—as well as with the rest of the world. By opening up their collection to the public, it is their hope that the public will be inspired to appreciate and engage in the transformative power of contemporary art.

The experimental approach MAF embraces, allows the foundation to continuously re-imagine itself and change shape in response to new developments in the world of contemporary art. Experimentation and evolution are two of the core values embedded in the conception of the foundation. Maurice and Paul have carried these ideas through from the very beginning by transforming a unique building that is historic and meaningful to the Los Angeles community—a former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple built by Millard Sheets in 1961—into a public space for exhibiting contemporary art. Not only does the Foundation provide a venue to display the collection publicly, it also serves as an experimental forum for artists to develop new concepts, installations, and exhibitions.

There is an undeniable vibrancy of artistic activity in Los Angeles, especially strong in the past decade, that MAF strives to enhance and contribute to through its unique programming and vision. MAF implements this through thoughtful presentations of the Collection, innovative commissions, site-specific installations, and the development of an active educational program for students of all ages. One of the aims of MAF’s programs is to teach the audience how to look at contemporary art and ideas at large with open minds and to embrace the questions they give rise to with thoughtfulness and curiosity.