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The Broad Art Museum — which will add yet another architecturally significant cultural institution to Los Angeles’ ever-burgeoning downtown when it opens in late 2014 – opened its uncompleted doors Tuesday morning. Beginning at 11 a.m., the museum — founded by real estate developer and mega art collector Eli Broad — gave sneak-peek hard-hat tours of the three-story building, located at 221 S. Grand Ave., to journalists, arts leaders and benefactors including restaurateur Michael Chow (who sits on the Broad’s board of governors) and his wife, Eva (a board member at LACMA.)
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Guests took a large freight elevator up to the third-floor, 35,000-thousand-square-foot main gallery space. Topping it is part of the building’s signature architectural statement, a ceiling, already completed, that along with the facade, still under construction, will clothe the building in an innovative white honeycomb-like exoskeleton made of 2,500 largely steel panels. The 23-foot-high ceiling sheds solely filtered light into the sprawling, column-free gallery through the panels’ carefully cut, north-facing skylights. The result is a building that’s open to the city and yet protects the artworks from damaging direct light. Architect Elizabeth Diller of the firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro — at a press conference held with Broad, newly elected Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and The Broad founding director Joanne Heyler – described the exterior as a veil and admitted to being especially daunted by creating a new building directly adjacent to Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Her solution was to create a structure that’s porous and matte, in total contrast to the hall’s shining and smooth curving surfaces. Broad echoed that design challenge, saying that he didn’t want the new home for his voluminous collection of more than 2,000 pieces of bluechip contemporary art to clash with Disney Hall, nor did he want it to be anonymous. The cutting-edge firm’s project credits include New York’s High Line and the coming Museum of Image & Sound in Rio de Janeiro. The executive architect of the project is Los Angeles’ Gensler.
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Broad sees the 120,000-square-foot, $140 million museum as the latest piece of a puzzle bringing new life to downtown Los Angeles. “I’ve always believe every city needs a vibrant center.” The Grand Avenue location of MOCA, of which Broad was founding chairman, sits almost directly across the street from the Broad and the Music Center is two blocks away. Broad left unsaid that his path to creating his edifice included extended discussions with Santa Monica to place it near the coast. The city ultimately lost out even after offering eight acres of land at $1 rent a year for 99 years plus $1 million toward construction. But Garcetti made joking reference: “I’m thinking of moving Los Angeles to Santa Monica just to get a better deal for L.A.” Garcetti praised Broad and his wife, Edye, co-founding of the The Broad Foundations, for creating a building that “expresses the soul of Los Angeles” with its qualities of sunshine, creativity and hard work. He also pointed to the building’s green cred. Its seeking LEED silver certification and will include electric car charging stations, water recycling and efficient plumbing.
Even with the negotiations to place the museum elsewhere, the project, announced just three years ago, has risen with astonishing speed.“Those of you who know me know I’m not a very patient person,” said Broad talking at points over the sounds of construction. As Garcetti later noted, the nonstop work was a clear sign of that impatience “you told the workers to continue even during your speech.” Broad’s hard-charging personality was also taken note of by Diller, who said that she’s been nervous about taking on the project, worrying she might not survive or would get fired. “His reputation precedes him … [but] the process has been great,” she said.
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The big surprise announcement of the day was that the Broad would offer free admission to its exhibitions, though there will be fee for some special temporary shows. The inaugural exhibit will showcase 250 of The Broad Foundations’ more than 2,000 artworks. The collection focuses in often career-spanning depth on a limited number of artist. The holdings were enumerated by Heyler: 30 Roy Lichtensteins, 30 Jeff Koons, 120 Cindy Sherman photographs. She also noted a particular commitment to Los Angeles artists, including Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Sharon Lockhart, Lari Pittman, Elliott Hundley, Mark Grotjean and Mark Bradford. Among the more recent acquisitions are pieces by Takashi Murakami.
The museum will also include considerable archive space, mostly on the second floor, to house the entire collection and will serve as home base to continue the foundations’ vigorous lending program, which has loaned more than 8,000 works to more than 500 museums for exhibitions since 1984. The Broad Foundations assets total $2.6 billion.
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