Ace Museum, Explained

Gao Zhen and Gao Qiang's Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin's Head, 2009, as installed at the former Ace Museum
Catherine Wagley has a ARTnews exposé on disgraced Ace Gallery founder Douglas Christmas. It contains the best explanation I've seen of why the so-called Ace Museum existed. As you may recall, that supposedly nonprofit institution opened on LaBrea circa 2009. It was distinguished by the connection to the once-influential Ace Gallery and mainly, by a polished metal sculpture of Lenin's head (with a tiny, cross-gender figure of Mao at top) by the Gao Brothers. The museum never got beyond the soft opening stage. With few visitors, it had the vibe of being a front for something else. Then one day in the late 2010s, the museum and Lenin head were no more.

The commercial Ace Gallery gave many L.A. artists a leg-up. But as Wagley puts it, Christmas was a man who "often inspired rage in his associates." She quotes artist James Hayward: "The fact that Doug's alive is the only proof we need that the art world is a civilized place." Christmas is now facing trial on Federal charges of embezzlement.

As to the Ace Museum, it was apparently a tax-evasion scheme intended to provide cash flow for the struggling Ace Gallery and/or Christmas. Wagley quotes a May 2016 court filing by Sam Leslie, the trustee appointed oversee the Ace Gallery's umpteenth bankruptcy:

"…it appears that Christmas was seeking to present to buyers a proposal whereby they would purchase art from Ace at a reduced price and then immediately donate it to Ace Museum and claim a tax deduction for a much higher value,” Leslie reported to the court in May 2016. “As a Certified Public Accountant, I know this proposal to be contrary to tax law."

Whatever happened to the shiny Lenin head? It's now in San Antonio, where some folks don't like art about Communists. The Gao Brothers shot back an e-mail hoping that "freedom-loving Texas people will enjoy the sculpture."


Lucky San Antonio.
I love this piece.
The Gao brothers probably know the Met's life-size sculpture in silver of the sea goddess Galatea of 1906 by the German Max Klinger.


A New Goddess in the Galleries: Max Klinger's Galatea | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Anonymous said…
Ed Ruscha did not use "the gallery's monosyllable name in a series of paintings..." On the contrary, Ruscha, whose 1962 painting was made five years before Ace Gallery opened in LA, has often stated that he was attracted to certain "powerful" words such as "ace," "honk," and "smash" early on.
Thanks for the correction about Ruscha's "Ace"—I've removed the mistaken comment.