The Broad: An Aesthetic Display of Wealth

July 4th, 2008 § 0 comments

“In the state ranking for per capita arts spending, California currently stands last. The local budget for arts spending in Los Angeles is abysmally low. Exhibitions in the city’s public spaces all vie for funding from the same pool of five or six private benefactors (A in A).”


Well, they could have fooled me. Not knowing the funding behind to our county museums (LACMA) new expansion plans, I heard a great deal about the now open new wing—the new museum is fittingly named Broad Contemporary Art Museum after Eli Broad who’s collection it was (stressing was) supposed to house. My initial thoughts on the new addition and pending changes after my recent visit was, impressive; meaning not that I myself was impressed, but that I was meant to feel how impressive the changes really are.


Walking to the museum through a long corridor of “exotic” palm trees apparently picked by Robert Irwin—I am still baffled by this painter turned horticulturist (the Getty garden for example), but he seems to be the only painter who likes to pick colors and textures in plants—we were greeted by Chris Burden’s lamp posts. Placed together in rows they created a lovely declaration about old l.a, though I wondered about their displacement. We have so little history and beauty in sprawling l.a., why gather it together in a single space? Still, it is nice to have artworks outside, and even nicer to be able to view and interact with them without the constant prowling of bored guards.

The Broad

The new BCAM building itself, designed by Renzo Piano, shouts out its new, contemporary role, and by comparison LACMA felt as heavy, dark, and old-fashioned as the Art Institute of Chicago or the Met. The light travertine exterior, the red steal highlights used for stairs and moving escalators, and the odd gestural angels seemed to appeal to a certain kind of clever design—the museum box looked American but the added exterior felt distinctly European. We skipped the multi-story escalator and trudged up several flights of stairs, rewarded only by a smoky view of the Hollywood hills. Looking out over the valley to the hills I remembered an essay I read that stated, “sprawls first name was l.a.”

Hollywood Hills

The interior was also impressive, being light, spacious, and new. The galleries were large, huge even, and the artworks were grouped together by artist, with whole galleries dedicated to a single maker (it would be amazing to actually use a space like that). I liked the idea of the layout, artists are traditionally grouped historically with fewer works to represent them, but here it felt like showing off. Like walking down the long corridor of unfinished Michelangelo’s to see the David looming up at the end, Eli Broad was whispering, “I got this, and then I found this other, wait, then I bought that one, but the best of all, here…!” A similar reaction I found in the A in A article I read after my visit, “with no theme, historical rationale or geographic coherence, the exhibition accomplishes little besides surveying some of Broad’s most expensive purchases of the past three decades.”

The political maneuvering of Eli Broad (a real estate billionaire), the 56 million spent to build the wing, the fact that he resides on the boards of many l.a. museums for contemporary art, is not nearly as disturbing to me as the collection he displayed. The impressive nature of the museum managed to placate me until I neared the bottom floor and began to question the artists shown. For having one of the largest collections of international contemporary artists the Broad proudly displayed only American artists, mostly men, all of whom non artists should have heard mentioned—like the impressionists they are hard to avoid. I found myself more “wowed” by how much money the mysterious Eli must have spent than by the art itself—it takes an impressive man to obtain such an impressive collection. Who was he, I wondered while looking through a room full of Jasper Johns, and how had he earned his money?

Then came disturbing considerations as to why I was seeing what I was seeing. He undoubtedly has no taste, no eye for art, and was told what to buy based on what is most expensive or what others call the “best” artists. In defense of sounding snobbish, if he was interested in art and not investment his collection would reflect his daring, understanding, and interest in the real not the hot. The potential meanings of who lets us, the general public, see which artworks and how they let us see it, has unnerving implications of philanthropist control in a public museum.


Still, not all his viewers were impressed. A couple we tried desperately to avoid exclaimed loudly in the Cindy Sherman exhibit, “didn’t he know any normal people!?”

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