Guess whose art collection is on view in Montreal?

No pun intended, Georges Marciano, the Co-founder of Guess Jeans art collection is in Montreal’s Old Port. Our designer jean obsession is heavily indebted to Marciano, since Guess Jeans was one of the first companies to introduce over priced designer denim to the masses during the 80s.

Marciano is also a classic American tale – a poor immigrant from France who amassed a fortune through hard work and business savvy in the fashion industry. As a result, he built a sprawling empire including ritzy residences in Los Angeles, a Boeing 737, an art collection boasting works by Marc Chagall and Ed Ruscha, a cellar of priceless wines, homes in Utah and France and, of course, his self-financed campaign for governor of California.

Today most of the Ferraris and mansions are gone. Creditors have laid claim too much of Marciano’s assets. And he has disappeared from the public eye; well, almost disappeared.

Marciano bought and renovated the LHotel in Montreal’s Old Port, where he lives in the penthouse and has decorated the rest of the hotel with aristocratic warmth and charm. Pieces from his extensive art collection, once considered one of the largest in private collections in North America are displayed in the hotel’s public areas and guest rooms.

Most often, relatively few people see private art collections: the collection’s custodian, an occasional tour group and those in the upper echelons of the art world who have the right connections. Since, I needed none of the above requirements to view this fine collection, I jumped on the opportunity, because as you know in Montreal these opportunities are rare.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect, since, I read most of Marciano’s assets were seized in September 2011 after his former employees won a defamation lawsuit against the fashion mogul. However, I found a treasure trove of artworks by some the world’s most esteemed artists: Robert Indiana, Andy Warhol, Juame Plensa, David Hockney, Frank Stella, Sol Lewitt, Roy Liechtenstein, to name a few. Art fills the corridors of entire four floor hotel, with some deluxe rooms dedicated to artists, i.e. the Murakami room, the Damien Hirst room, the Robert Rauschenberg room, et cetera.

The collection includes iconic works such as, Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture, Juame Plensa’s Sitting Tattoo, and, Andy Warhol’s Georges Marciano portrait (an attestation of his former power and influence). Yet, it’s a striking contrast to the kind of conspicuous accumulation of art objects that have become common among art world collectors, like billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, who uses the power of his enormous art holding to persuade the museum boards of Los Angeles to do what ever he pleases.

Mind you, Marciano did loan a few very important sculptures to the Montreal Museum of Fine Art. But I don’t think he has ulterior motives like Broad’s. The pieces on loan are Rock by Jim Dine and Le Tournesol Polychrome by Fernand Léger they are included in the museum’s sculpture garden.

Marciano’s art collection doesn’t holds much weight compared to mega art collectors Eli Broad, Dakis Joannou or Charles Saatchi. But, too often, in Canada art collections possessing artwork by some the worlds most esteemed artists go unnoticed because collectors feel there is no benefit to show their collections publicly. In return, many great artists don’t get the recognition they deserve because their art is locked away in private homes where few can enjoy it.

Most collectors start out because they’re buying work to enhance their financial portfolio or they want something to put in their living rooms, or simply to be surrounded by very beautiful things. It is hard to say, what Marciano’s motivations for collecting art are, but the one thing I can say is he used his fame and fortune to build an amazing collection of Post World War ll art.

The collection displayed in the Botero bar and lobby is there for the public to enjoy. If you want to see any of the art located inside the rooms, you have to fork up a couple hundred bucks, since these areas are reserved for paying customers.

All photographs © Juan Madrigal

One Comment

  1. Thank you for this nice article and the beautiful pictures. As you mentioned, some of our artworks were ceased but were all were returned. We do have a few sculptures on loan at the Montreal Museum of Arts and they are all located in the museum’s garden for everyone to see.

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