Eli Broad's Museum Opens Its Doors to L.A.

The Broad Museum - H 2015

With some 2,000 works of art from the billionaire philanthropist's collection, The Broad makes L.A. the largest center for contemporary art in North America.

Art collectors for 35 years, Eli and Edythe Broad finally are set to open the doors on a new home for their collection, an epic assemblage of 2000 objects by contemporary masters. Next door to the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Grand Avenue in downtown L.A., the city’s newest cultural landmark, The Broad, a honeycomb-shelled structure designed by the celebrated New York City firm of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro (who also designed New York City's acclaimed promenade park, the High Line), will open to the public on September 20. It will be L.A.’s fourth institution dedicated to contemporary art.

“With the opening of The Broad, Los Angeles has become without question the contemporary art capital of the world,” Eli Broad told a gathering of journalists from all over the world at a September 16 press preview. “We have more museum and gallery space for contemporary art than any city in North America.”

Broad was joined by wife Edythe, who first interested him in art collecting, along with the museum's founding director, Joanne Heyler, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Elizabeth Diller, chief architect on the project. “While a single building cannot make or break a city, it can play a small role in shaping it," said Diller. "And we’re very, very happy to be a part of this larger urban effort.”

Built at a cost of $140 million and endowed at $200 million per year, the museum’s exterior is characterized by its honeycombed façade constructed of 2,500 fiberglass reinforced concrete panels and 650 tons of steel. Getting it right was the main reason for a nearly year-long construction delay, including a $19.8 million lawsuit leveled against German architectural fabricator, Seele, which specializes in facades.

Context is key to architecture, and seated next to Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall (and across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art, which Broad co-founded), The Broad aims not to compete but to contrast, with its boxy simplicity and porous veil complementing the swooping titanium curves next door. The facade lifts at the corners, inviting visitors to peek inside. And with no admission charge, there’s no reason not to. The dim, cavernous entryway is a cool and calm palate cleanser between the glare of the L.A. sky and the ecstatic collection housed within. Light filters through the facade in a soft glow that illuminates an untitled sculpture by Urs Fischer (a twisted lamppost that evokes a Tim Burton set or a post-apocalyptic version of Chris Burden's Urban Light outside LACMA) and another by Robert Therrien, a precariously stacked tower of giant dishes.

The Broad Foundation won’t comment on the total value of the collection, but it’s estimated to be in the hundreds of millions. The inaugural show includes 250 works by artists like Cy Twombly, Ed Ruscha and Takashi Murakami, whose psychedelic cartoon mushroom sculptures occupy the center of a gallery, surrounded by a massive mural featuring traditional Asian figures in a surreal swirl of elephants, waves and death heads.

Broad owns the largest number of works by Jeffrey Koons in private hands. A gallery dedicated to the artist includes a Balloon Dog in metallic blue and a porcelain Michael Jackson and Bubbles. Warhol’s gallery is filled with portraits of Elvis, Marilyn and soup can pictures, as well as his own likeness. Roy Lichtenstein gets his own gallery, as do Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst, while artists like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauchenberg and Kara Walker are well-represented.

“The building is effectively uncompromised from the original concept and this is a testament to a dedicated client,” Diller told Broad before the crowd. “Thank you for participating so closely in the process, Eli — too closely. We were duly warned,” she said to knowing laughter, in a respectful reference to the mogul's sometimes heavy-handed management style.

Broad made a fortune in the 1970s and '80s in home building and made even more with the 1998 sale of Sun America, a financial services company. While he is the largest donor to the arts in Los Angeles, his relationships often have been put to the test, notably in the clash when MOCA board members like John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie and Barbara Kruger resigned in protest over the hiring of curator Jeffrey Deitch, who was installed by Broad. His brusque style has alienated people like David Geffen, whose name is on a separate wing of MOCA in nearby Japantown, and Frank Gehry, who called Broad a “control freak” in a segment on 60 Minutes.

But with a gala dinner planned for Thursday, and the museum’s opening only days away, the art community is celebrating Broad, whose foundation has loaned some 800 pieces to 500 art institutions around the world. “We wanted to share the works in our collection with the broadest possible audience,” Broad told the crowd. “I’m often asked why it’s important for people to have access to contemporary art. The answer’s simple; contemporary art is the art of our time. It reflects an important social, political and cultural commentary on the world in which we live.”