Below is a slightly expanded version of my recent CITYWATCH article about Eli Broad. LACMA and the Los Angeles Times:
Eli Broad has just donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a new $56 million art museum designed by architect Renzo Piano. He added to that gift an additional $10million to buy art for it. For this craven act he was, of course, properly reprimanded by the Los Angeles Times.
My first run-in with Eli and his 'misguided' concept of the public good was at the start of the Grand Avenue project process. He had the foolish idea that selecting a developer with deep pockets and the ability to survive downturns was more important than hiring the developer attached to the best architect. For that reason, I attended numerous meetings to denounce the third rate architect his favored developer, the Related Companies, had proposed.
Unfortunately, Related won. But two architect changes later, Frank Gehry was hired for what may be his only major commercial project in LA and, at a time other projects are being canceled, Grand Avenue will rise, notwithstanding current misinformation. So Grand Avenue ended up with a deep pocketed builder, a first rate local architect – and a project that will be built.
Eli Broad's most current crimes against nature, according to the Los Angeles Times, start with his showing part of his art collection at LACMA some years ago without his committing to donate the collection to LACMA. This was considered a mortal sin by the LA Times since some collectors have gotten the imprimatur of showing their collection at a museum – and then sold off their collections at auction. Except, Eli has been buying and not selling at auctions and he has promised to keep his collection intact in a foundation. He never profited from that show.
Next, he had the nerve to hire his own architect and pay for all the costs of the new museum building himself when no one else would.
As background, some years ago, it was realized that LACMA needed considerably more exhibition space and that the existing campus had to be redesigned. A plan by Rem Koolhaas was commissioned and approved and Eli promised the first $50 million of the needed $300 million that had to be raised.
The problem was - the fund raising started – and ended - with him.
Then a public bond issue to help fund the project failed at the polls.
So Eli committed to a $50 million-plus building as part of the first phase of the redesign – and to also pay for a master plan so that future projects could be funded by others in the future.
With that jump start, the needed $156 million for phase one was soon achieved – and over $200 million has now been raised. The extra money will go into programming, endowment growth, and art acquisitions.
He also agreed to have the galleries in 'his' building (BCAM - the Broad Contemporary At Museum) to be named after other donors, he did not restrict what art could be shown and he did not ask for curatorial influence other than some input in the initial show.
Clearly an out of control ego here.
Christopher Knight of the Times then finds the show offensive because all the art in it looks… expensive. He is also appalled that much of finest - and the most expensive (which is not always the same thing, of course) - work of the last century was created by white males (with not enough local women or artists of color in the collection) and that the Broad collections reflect the tastes of… the Broads.
All of which is… total bull shit.
There are dozens of local collectors buying local women and artists of color – and our museums will soon be filled with their works. But no one in LA is buying – in quantity - museum quality work of the most expensive artists of the second half of the last century. The Broad's collections also have many younger LA artists and many younger woemen aritsts and aritsts of color. But LACMA director Michael Govan chose instead to show the unique strengths of the Broad's collections; the masterworks that few oteher people are buying and donating to museusm.
The Broads are filling a gap no one else is filling for LACMA while others are buying the artists Knight feels the Broads should also be buying.
As for the collection having the Broad's taste – again, there is no requirement that the new building has to show any of their work. The museum is free to select – or reject – anything from any of the Broad Collections.
That brings us to the final attack. Eli has decided – for now - to keep his 2,000 works of art – 600 of which were purchased in the last two years – and he is still buying – in a foundation museums can borrow from – with LACMA always having first choice in selecting what to borrow.
Now, I have to admit when I first heard this, I was a little put off – until I saw the small fraction of his collections within the new building. I then realized how many of even these works of art would not be on view once the building was recurated a year from now to tell the story of 20th Century art.
I also thought of all the paintings I have seen over the years at his foundation that were not on display – and which would never be on display if they all belonged to LACMA.
So, reluctantly, I realized he was right.
Art should be seen. And at the rate at which he is buying, no museum will ever be able to show but a fraction of his art. So under his plan more people will be able to see…. more art. Now I don't know about you – but that sure sounds like a hanging crime to me.
Ironically, by not donating his collection, but allowing LACMA to borrow whatever they want from it, Eli is removing his personal taste from the equation of what is shown in the building – and he allows LACMA director Michael Govan – and all future directors – the maximum artistic freedom – and flexibility.
So this solves all of the reasons why Christopher Knight has for attacking Broad’s collections. Assuming, of course, those reasons have anything at all to do with the real reasons for the always highly personal attacks by the LA Times on Broad. (Brady Westwater is a writer, community activist and a regular contributor to CityWatch. ) _