Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad has been committed to turning downtown Los Angeles into a cultural hub for decades — he is the founding chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art and helped raise the $250 million needed to build Walt Disney Concert Hall.
On Sept. 20, his most ambitious project to date will open. The Broad, a 120,000-square-foot, $140 million museum at the corner of Grand Avenue and Second Street (across from the Museum of Contemporary Art and next door to Disney Hall), features two floors of gallery space and houses the nearly 2,000 works of art from Broad and wife Edythe’s personal collection, among the most prominent assemblages of postwar and contemporary art in the world.
“If you’re serious about contemporary art, you can’t not come to L.A. and consider the artists working here. The Broad is part of that,” said Joanne Heyler, director and chief curator of The Broad Art Foundation and the museum’s founding director. She’s leading a small private tour of the space, and crates containing works by Damien Hirst and Roy Lichtenstein are still scattered around the lobby. Upstairs, Jeff Koons’ famous “Puppy” is still sheathed in plastic wrap. But Heyler likes to begin the tour outside the building on the sidewalk.
Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architectural firm responsible for the Lincoln Center redesign and the High Line in New York, the museum features an eye-catching “veil and vault” design — the vault being the curving, opaque gray mass that is the second-floor art storage, as well as the lobby’s ceiling and the third-floor gallery’s floor. The veil is the white honeycomblike structure that covers the outside of the building and forms the ceiling of the third-floor gallery.
DSR beat out six other firms bidding for the job in 2010 in large part because of its decision to make the art storage a central part of the building rather than relegate it to the basement. As visitors make their way up or down the staircase that cuts through the vault, hundreds of paintings stored on wire panels are visible through glass panels.
The inaugural exhibit curated by Heyler aims to present an in-depth look at the collection, amassed over five decades.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find such an in-depth view of contemporary art anywhere else today,” she said. On average, The Broad acquires one work per week to add to its 2,000-piece collection.
The 19 galleries on the third floor are arranged chronologically from the Sixties to 2000. Several of the galleries are dedicated to a single artist, such as Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Takashi Murakami and Kara Walker, while others contain several artists unified by an era such as the Cold War or New York in the Eighties.
Downstairs, the galleries are more thematic and show the new directions of art in post-2000 works. The first floor also houses a Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrored Room, which is meant to be experienced by one person at a time. There is also a nine-channel HD projection installation by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson.
Noticeably missing from the lobby is a front desk; instead, visitor-services associates greet guests with mobile devices. Admission to the museum is free but advance reservations are required; more than 40,000 slots have been reserved online in the last two days. Fortunately, the inaugural exhibit will remain up for six months.
“Eli tends to have the last word, but it’s fair to say I influence things pretty heavily,” said Heyler. She hopes to be able to exhibit a room of Franz Ackermann works in the future and added, “This being L.A., we’ll also invite filmmakers and musicians to do things with the museum to illuminate the collection in a fresh way.”