September 23, 2019

A sneak peek inside the Broad museum

A throng of art-world insiders, media and members of the public swirled around the top-floor gallery of The Broad for a sneak peak at Los Angeles’ newest art museum … before the art was installed. At the center of the storm, the new museum’s benefactor and namesake, Eli Broad, sat calmly perched on a stool, taking in the spectacle.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Broad, 81, whose money comes from real estate, though he is now best known as a philanthropist in arts and education. “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 designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro had been scheduled to open in 2014, but a legal dispute with a subcontractor, Seele Inc., hired to create the honeycomb exterior, delayed the opening to Sept. 20 of this year. 

On Feb. 15, the museum opened its doors to more than 3,500 people, allowing them to take the freight elevator up to the vast, column-free third-floor gallery. The 35,000-square-foot space (nearly a full acre) had not yet been divided by partition walls, allowing a clear view of the architecture. The $10 tickets for the day sold out within minutes.

“I came up to the third floor, which is the exhibition floor, and I thought I’d gone into heaven. It was a science fiction movie, or something like that,” former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, a friend of Broad, said.

The event also featured two temporary installations: an “abstract soundscape of downtown Los Angeles” by BJ Nilsen and an “immersive sound and light environment” created by Yann Novak.

The building includes an anvil-shaped inner sanctum and the distinctive exterior or “veil” of the building, a porous structure that allows natural light to flood in.

“It does challenge perception,” said Joanne Heyler, founding director of The Broad. “It challenges traditional ways of thinking about museum buildings. And that’s what we love about it.”

“You know, we had a challenge, being next door to Walt Disney Concert Hall,” Broad added. “You didn’t want to clash with it, but you didn’t want to be anonymous, either. So I think we’ve got a building that is iconic but doesn’t clash with the concert hall.”

Broad has long been a prime advocate for rethinking and reinvigorating Grand Avenue in downtown. He was the founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), located in a building designed by Arata Isozaki across the street from his new museum, and 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’s collection and the Broads’ extensive personal art collection include more than 2,000 artworks. The Broad will open with a mostly chronological selection of 250 to 300 pieces, beginning with works from the 1950s by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly and pop art of the 1960s by Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol. Artists represented in depth from the 1980s, the decade when The Broad Art Foundation was established, include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger and Jeff Koons. The museum’s installation will continue through to works from the present, with pieces by Kara Walker and a monumental, immersive, eight-screen video piece, “The Visitors,” by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, and other recent acquisitions.

The Broad Foundation, which will be headquartered in the new museum, has already made more than 8,000 loans to more than 500 museums, mostly from its previous home in Santa Monica, which was not public. Some of the art is housed at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), designed by architect Renzo Piano and built in 2008, to which Broad lent his collection for a survey exhibition. The LACMA collection includes work by James Turrell, Richard Serra, Gerhard Richter, Nam June Paik and others. It’s unclear how much of the LACMA collection will be moved to The Broad.

The Broad will be open to the public free of charge, made possible by a sizeable endowment from Eli and Edythe Broad, but will charge for temporary special exhibitions. While the free admission is sure to attract many 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,” Broad said. “Our work is the last 40 years. MOCA’s work begins at the end of World War II, starting with 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.” That also includes the Music Center, the Colburn School and the Rafael Moneo-designed Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

“So not only do you have fantastic institutions for music, for opera, for art, but you also have permanently installed on the block an exhibition of architecture with some of the most important architects in the world,” Vergne said. “I don’t see many cities that can actually claim, in terms of cultural commitment and architectural achievement, what’s happening here.”

The Broad’s emergence shows just how much downtown Los Angeles is changing. With every gastropub, chic boutique and organic supermarket that sets down stakes in the neighborhood, the long-held image of a crime-infested urban core continues to fade. It’s a little ironic that Broad, who built his fortune constructing suburban developments, is now breathing life back into downtown.

“I think the population of downtown is going to at least triple,” Broad said. “Between what’s happening on Grand Avenue, what’s happening near L.A. Live, and of course the new Arts District. And I think it’s starting to accelerate, and you’re going to see downtown Los Angeles a very different place. It’s going to be 24/7. It’s not going to be like the old days, when you rolled up the sidewalks at 8 o’clock at night.”

Besides building an extensive collection of postwar and contemporary art, the Broads have also poured their finances into biomedical research with the Broad Institute, which funds stem cell research and genomics. The Broad Foundation is also focused on improving urban public education to make U.S. schools 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 added.

Watch the live construction of the Broad museum