A few days ago, a post in the LAist blog caught our eye, giving people a heads-up that the love-it-or-hate-it-but-certainly-iconic Lenin-head sculpture at the Ace Museum, 400 S. La Brea, may be leaving soon.
According to the post, the owner of the currently shuttered space, where the financially troubled museum had been located, has notified the Gao Brothers, the Chinese artists who created the statue, that they have 10 days to remove it, or they will have to give up their claim to the piece. The statue, formally titled, “Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head,” is called in the LAist story an “ode to the relationship between two leaders’ political ideologies,” but the Gao brothers say it is hard for them to reclaim because they are “unable to return such a politically charged piece to their native China.”
“Our works were confiscated by China customs many times,” the Gao Brothers told LAist via email. “Because of censorship [by Chinese] customs, no shipping company would like to work on [returning] it.”
“There are a few of galleries/museums in the US, even Haifa Museum of Art in Israel, which are interested in showing the statue, but almost all of them asked [the] same question: if there is any foundation or an organization that can help us finance the delivery of the statue.”
To understand the full scope of what’s happening with the statue, it helps to understand the troubled history of the Ace Gallery, which has exhibition spaces on Wilshire Blvd. in Miracle Mile and Beverly Hills…and the Ace Museum, a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity that has been located in the former General Motors car dealership building at 4th and La Brea.
Yesterday, the Buzz spoke with Drew Hammond, the Consulting Exhibitions Director for the Ace Gallery, and he explained that while both Ace Gallery and Ace Museum were founded by original director Douglas Chrismas, they are entirely separate entities legally, and now operate under completely separate management.
For most of the last few years, Hammond said, the Ace Gallery has been involved in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, during which Chrismas was removed from the company. It is now being run by trustee Sam Leslie.
While Chrismas has had no relationship with Ace Gallery for more than a year, however, he does apparently still control the non-profit Ace Museum. But the Museum has also run into financial difficulty, according to Hammond, and the La Brea property owner has repossessed the building due to non-payment of “millions” of dollars in rent. It is that property owner who has told the Gao Brothers to remove the statue or it will be considered “abandoned” and possibly auctioned off. (While this was done “fairly late” in the process and makes the timing difficult, Hammond said, it’s also within the landlord’s legal rights to make the demand.)
Since the ultimatum, Hammond said he has been working “pro bono” to help the Gao Brothers find a new home for the statue (which was never consigned to the Ace Museum, so the Gao Brothers still own it), and to engage other art world folks around the country in the effort to save it. But although Hammond says he has tried contacting numerous museums, galleries and even “collectors with big back yards,” he’s had no luck yet…and the landlord’s deadline is fast approaching. (The Gao Brothers have also apparently been unable to secure a deadline extension from the property owner.)
While all this has been unfolding, neighbors, too, have been wondering what’s happening with the property. Barbara Savage, president of the La Brea-Hancock Homeowners Association, said she tried to contact Chrismas for an update on the museum several weeks ago, and received a rather positive e-mail back from him earlier this week. In it, he said “We are in the process of raising the necessary funds to complete a transaction with the owner. I definitely wish the museum to prevail and be part of the neighborhood.”
But Hammond said he finds it “very hard to believe [the museum] could occupy that space [again], unless [Chrismas] could come up with all the rent that is due.” Hammond also expressed doubt that “they would even be allowed back in,” even if Chrismas does manage to raise the millions he owes. But Hammond does wish Chrismas well with the effort. “I think the museum was a great idea, and I wish he could have succeeded with it because it would be a great thing for Los Angeles,” Hammond said.
Meanwhile, Ace Museum neighbors are also still dealing with property maintenance issues, which have been ongoing for many years. William Funderburk, a resident of the 400 block of S. Sycamore Ave., the west side of which is the rear border of the museum’s property, cited the museum’s “abject failure to maintain a safe and clean sidewalk next to property it controls and has possession of.” He said “Ace continues to be a bad corporate neighbor by not complying with the requests made by the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council and the neighbors” to maintain the rear of the property. Despite numerous promises by Chrismas, Funderburk says, the area still features unkempt, unsafe sidewalks, and the proliferation of trash, including especially unwelcome items such as used condoms and plastic marijuana vials.
Funderburk said the LBHHA and the GWNC made formal requests, supported by City Council District 4, back in 2013, that the museum be responsible for the following list of maintenance tasks:
- Daily cleaning of the Sycamore sidewalk (trash, leaves, paraphernalia)
- 24-hour graffiti removal from the wall
- Routine yearly tree trimming
- Beautify the area under the ficus trees with mulch
- Replace the border with the Sycamore sidewalk with more suitable, unbroken block, brick or other
- Notify neighbors of parties a week in advance before the parties; make sure there is adequate noise mitigation, security, parking enforcement, etc. prior to parties
But Funderburk said Chrismas has consistently failed to perform these tasks (as evidenced by the photos above), and he sent another letter this week to the current staff at CD 4, to enlist their help, once again, with the property maintenance.
At the moment, though, it’s the fate of “Miss Mao…” which may be most urgent. If a new home can’t be found for it very soon, La Brea may soon lose one of its most recognizable landmarks.