The Broad Museum’s long-awaited opening
For those who live and work in downtown Los Angeles, it often seemed the day would never come. For four years, construction of the new Broad museum unfolded on Grand Avenue next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Now, finally, the scaffolding has come down and The Broad, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro architects, will open to the public on Sept. 20. It is the most anticipated contemporary art event of the season.
Back in 2011, Eli Broad addressed a crowd of journalists gathered at Disney Hall about his planned namesake art museum. “I’m convinced that Los Angeles has become the contemporary art capital of the world,” he said to a round of applause, referencing the city’s wealth of artists, art schools, museums and galleries. Now, four years later, The Broad opening follows the many more galleries and art spaces that have opened here, backing up the bravado of his assertion.
An only child of Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants, Broad was born in the Bronx and raised in Detroit and made his fortune building two Fortune 500 companies, the first in real estate with Kaufman & Broad and the second with the retirement savings company SunAmerica. He is now best known as one of the United States’ leading philanthropist in arts, education and medical research. Broad and his wife, Edythe, also have been deeply engaged in the art world and collecting over the last five decades. Their Broad Art Foundation’s collection and their extensive personal collection include more than 2,000 artworks, a portion of which was shown in 2008 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) there. But this is the first time the collection will be displayed in such a comprehensive manner.
“The inaugural installation will be a sweeping, chronological exhibition drawn exclusively from our collection, featuring more than 250 artworks dating from the 1950s to the present,” Joanne Heyler, founding director of The Broad and director and chief curator of The Broad Art Foundation, said in an email interview.
The installation begins on the museum’s third floor, with works by major artists who emerged in the 1950s, including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. The Pop Art movement of the 1960s is represented through works by Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol, among others. Moving into the 1980s, the installation presents multiple works by artists the Broads have focused on in depth, among them Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, Keith Haring, Barbara Kruger and Jeff Koons.
The installation continues through the present on the first floor, including with a monumental, immersive, nine-screen video piece, “The Visitors,” by Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson, and an 82-foot-long mural-sized painting by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.
Earlier this year, The Broad offered a sneak peek at its 35,000-square-foot third-floor space to members of the media and public. As natural light flooded in through the distinctive honeycomb exterior, or “veil,” of the building, which also includes 318 skylights, Broad himself sat on a stool amid the throng of visitors admiring the space.
“It’s a dream come true,” Broad, 82, said. “I feel very good about the building. It’s taken a little longer than we would’ve liked, but it sure was worth waiting for.”
The $140 million, 120,000-square-foot museum was scheduled to open in 2014, but a legal dispute with a subcontractor, Seele Inc., hired to create the exterior, delayed the opening to this fall.
Moving a collection of 2,000 works in all types of media into a brand-new building also has been a major challenge. In addition to the work installed in the galleries, the collection fills 21,000 square feet of storage areas. And although Heyler is very familiar with the plans and construction of the building, installing the inaugural exhibition in a new space proved to be tricky, she said. Moving from the “curator’s dollhouse” — the small-scale model she has been working with for a few years — to the actual museum building inevitably comes with surprises.
“Sometimes a work just looks different when hung in the actual space, depending on how it relates to things like scale of the space or the skylights in our third-floor gallery,” Heyler said. “Many spaces have turned out just as planned, but let’s just say that we’ve hung and then moved more than one work in the past few months.”
The building includes an anvil-shaped inner sanctum dubbed the “vault.” Its carved underside defines the lobby’s walls and ceiling, its center contains the collection’s storage areas, and its ceiling serves as the floor of the museum’s third-floor galleries. The architect placed windows at two landings in the central staircase to allow visitors to see inside the painting storage room, to watch staff at work, moving artworks back and forth. The inclusion of the vault allows the Broad to keep nearly all of its collection on-site, although a few pieces are too large to be stored at the museum, such as Charles Ray’s 47-foot-long replica of a toy fire truck.
For decades, Broad has been the chief advocate for reinvigorating downtown’s Grand Avenue. He was the founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), whose building, designed by Arata Isozaki, stands across the street from The Broad, and in the late 1990s, he led the fundraising campaign to build the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall; he also secured the financing for Grand Park at the Civic Center.
The Broad Art Foundation, which is moving from a space in Santa Monica that was not open to the public to be headquartered in the new museum, already has made more than 8,000 loans to more than 500 museums. Some of the collection is housed at BCAM, designed by architect Renzo Piano and completed in 2008, which at that time had been expected to be a permanent home to the collection, before Broad announced he would build his own museum.
The Broad will be open to the public free of charge, thanks to a sizable endowment from Eli and Edythe Broad, but it will charge for tickets to temporary special exhibitions. Although the free admission is sure to attract visitors who might not otherwise come, some fear it could also hurt attendance at MOCA across the street, which charges $12 for general admission and $7 for students and seniors. Broad, who remains a life trustee of MOCA, downplayed the competitive angle.
“It’s so complementary,” he said. “Our work is the last 40 years. MOCA’s work begins at the end of World War II, starting with [Piet] Mondrian, and so on. If people want to see the best artwork from the end of World War II to the present time, I can think of no better place than The Broad and MOCA.”
Philippe Vergne, MOCA’s new director, said the staff of both institutions are working “to really make sure that this entire street is perceived as a campus.” In addition to Disney Hall, the nearby cultural landmarks also include the Music Center, the Colburn School and the Rafael Moneo-designed Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Besides building an extensive collection of postwar and contemporary art, the Broads also have poured their finances into biomedical research with the Broad Institute, which funds stem cell research and genomics. The Broad Foundation also has focused on improving urban public education with the goal of making schools in the U.S. more competitive on the global stage.
“The arts are important to improve the human condition in a very different way, especially during these troubled times, when people worry about terrorism and all the other problems of the world,” Broad said. “So, I think art gets people stimulated, makes them feel better, gets them away from the day-to-day issues in their lives and the world.
“Today, it’s about the architecture. When it opens to the public on Sept. 20, it’ll be about the art,” Broad said.