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It doesn’t happen often, but for a couple of nights in mid-September, L.A. is the undisputed capitol of the art world.
What instigated this rarest of events was the Sept. 17 and 18 opening galas for The Broad, Eli and Edythe Broad’s contemporary art museum, located on the stretch of Grand Avenue that also houses the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA, which Broad co-founded) and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
To put it mildly, the new space was a hit.
“You have judge it against the great museums,” said artist John Baldessari. “And it’s in that league.” Producer and art collector Douglas Cramer, who’s a life trustee at New York’s MOMA and one of L.A.’s MOCA founders (and sold Broad some of the paintings on its walls) called it “world class art in a world class setting.”
Eli Broad, 82, who tried to stay seated during the reception (he was nursing a back injury) said his Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed museum – featuring an opening collection of some 250 pieces from artists such as Jeff Koons, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michael Basquiat – “is the culmination of a process that began 50 years ago when I first started collecting art. It’s a privilege to give this to the people of Los Angeles.”
And it’s a gift Broad said he hopes will benefit all of L.A. “I think it’s going to dramatically increase cultural tourism in the city,” he added.
The evening began with a reception that was both outside on the blocked-off and carpeted Grand Avenue (bus stop benches were camouflaged in thick black cloth making them look like lumpy sofas) and inside The Broad. The big name expected at the Sept. 18 event is Bill Clinton and the crowd on Thursday night seemed more heavy with downtown movers-and-shakers with a sprinkling of artists and celebs, including Tobey Maguire (with wife Jennifer Meyer), Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Val Kilmer and Rosanna Arquette as well as top industry execs like Sony’s Michael Lynton, WME’s Ari Emanuel and lawyer Bert Fields. Rocker Chrissie Hynde surprised attendees with a special live performance during the dinner.
Political luminaries were also in attendance, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who used the word “breathtaking” to describe The Broad. “It’s a symbol of L.A. at this moment, which is at once a beautiful exterior but the mysteries inside are revealing of the creative crossroads of the world,” said the Mayor (accompanied by wife Amy Wakeland), who added that he had been inside the museum on five other occasions prior to Thursday night’s opening. “I think of Los Angeles as the contemporary art capital of the world. Eli and I both agree on that today.”
Of course, the star of the evening was the museum itself, but there was a lot of talk about how this was a significant step in L.A.’s – especially Downtown’s – cultural development. “To have Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall, the Music Center, MOCA and LACMA, it’s like we’ve finally arrived,” Mike Ovitz told THR. Former MOCA, director Richard Koshalek said, “There’s now a critical mass of culture in Downtown. This is a turning point.”
With the addition of The Broad, there’s been more than enough discussion of possible cultural competition that might follow. Philippe Vergne, director of nearby MOCA isn’t worried. “More! More! More!” said the French curator, accompanied by wife and fellow star curator Sylvia Chivaratanond. “More art, more artists, more people looking at art, more options, more diversity. It’s totally complementary. With the two institutions across the street from each other, we now have some of the most important art created in the last 50 years. So for me, that’s what is very important and we’re working with Eli and Edythe’s team to make sure that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.”
There’s a lot that can be done in the 120,000 square feet of interior space of which 50,000 is reserved for art viewing. Founding director and chief curator Joanne Heyler said that almost 100,000 tickets have been reserved for admission to The Broad and that their staff has been working around the clock to prepare for the launch. “Obviously I live in L.A., but I’m staying at a hotel about a block away, that tells you a lot right there,” she laughed.
Ed Ruscha, who was outside during the reception said he couldn’t comment on the finished museum as he still hadn’t seen it. “I had a hard hat tour a year ago and the top floor was the best. It’s uninterrupted space,” said the artist.
As with many galas, most of the guests’ focus was on other guests. And this was a group who knew each other. It was like a club meeting of the town’s financial and legal elite plus a varied collection of international museum directors. Though there were art world moments, as when Julian Schnabel walked Gehry, who was nursing a bad leg (there was a lot of limping going on at this event), over to view his The Walk Home plates, oil, copper, bronze and fiberglass piece that entirely fills an entire second floor wall.
One subject that came up in many conversations was the museum’s free admission. “It’s contemporary; it’s a celebration of now,” said producer Joel Silver. “And it’s free.” New York Giants owner and producer Steve Tisch said, “I can’t wait to come back. It’s free.”
Even the gala was free. This included the reception and dinner on a nearby parking structure’s third floor that had been topped with a glass-walled tent and filled with 43 rectangular tables that each seated 16. The color of the space was museum grey. After the guests arrived, a screen was pulled back and a 50-piece orchestra (all dressed in white) was playing Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
A city can’t be the capitol of anything art-related without a fashionable crowd to back it up and Thursday night didn’t disappoint. The typically-predictable L.A. red carpet crowd was lit up with wild prints, embellished gowns, splashes of neon and plenty of fringe.
Eva Chow, also nursing an ankle she recently broke after an accidental fall (“It’s a boring story. I slipped and tripped but I should say I was skiing down from Gstaad.”), looked chic in a custom Roberto Cavalli white dress with feathers. “I threw on a caftan and ballet slippers because I can’t walk very well,” she said, before her husband, Michael Chow, praised their friends for what they’ve accomplished with the museum opening. “It’s one of the most important art collections,” he said. “This is the beginning of something for Los Angeles.”
Fields’ wife, Barbara Guggenheim, picked a vintage Norell creation – a tight-fitting mint dress with silver sequins that was a showstopper because “we are all here to celebrate Eli and Edy and celebrate a new museum, so why not?”
Arquette also opted for vintage. “This is a 30-year-old vintage Alaia and it’s a museum piece as well,” the actress explained.
Fashion aside, Fields said Thursday night marked a “marvelous step ahead for Los Angeles. Look behind you with Disney Hall and MOCA in this grand corridor. We owe a tremendous debt to Eli” before Guggenheim added, “He’s a city father in all caps.”
The generosity of the Broads has been well documented, but Koons offered something specific to artists that has gotten less ink. “They have a tremendous art lending library and whenever an artist has an exhibition and they need a piece from their collection, they always loan,” gushed Koons, who knows because the couple owns more of his work than anyone in the world. “You’ll find that once things leave your realm it’s very hard to get it back. But the Broads have always been there for artists. And their philanthropy to Los Angeles and the world through education, the arts and science has been unmatched.”
As for the Broads efforts, art dealer Larry Gagosian added, “It’s a great endgame. This is where you hope things end up – in a museum.”
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