Those eagerly anticipating the opening of the hottest new addition to L.A.’s booming art scene, The Broad, finally got to peek behind the honeycomb-like, fiberglass-reinforced concrete veil of the museum this past Sunday. The $140-million institution houses the stellar postwar and contemporary art collection of billionaire philanthropists Edythe and Eli Broad, who have been buying art since the 1950s. The museum is a feat in many ways, a symbol of urban aspiration and revitalization, and a reinvention of the classical idea of a museum. The institution is pioneering an innovative model for contemporary art institutions—its exhibition spaces are built around the storage of a collection of 2,000 works.
The Broad museum on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles; photo by Iwan Baan. Courtesy The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
That collection, to which one new work is added by the Broads per week, sits in what the museum’s architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, call a “vault” at the core of the building, with the museum’s 50,000 square feet of exhibition space radiating out on the first and third floors. Like a nerve center at the heart of the project, the storage vault can be glimpsed through two windows, in a gesture of transparency. The inaugural exhibition, organized by Joanne Heyler, the museum’s chief curator and founding director, includes 250 works by some of the biggest names in 20th- and 21st-century art, from Ed Ruscha and Robert Rauschenberg to Barbara Kruger and Cindy Sherman. It’s intended to showcase the breadth of the Broads’ acquisitions over the years, but it’s also a test of the building’s architecture and its ability to bring the collection to life.
Speaking to the press at the museum’s opening, architect Elizabeth Diller (of Diller Scofidio + Renfro) explained the concept of the building’s veil and vault, and its facilitation of a “cinematic” experience: “The vault would hold the collection, and it floats in the middle of the building. It organizes all the other parts of the program...the architectural protagonist of the project. The veil, a somewhat coy and porous, mineral-like, five-sided façade would nest over the vault. The veil would absorb the light.”
Installation view of works by Christopher Wool and Jeff Koons in The Broad's third-floor galleries; photo by Bruce Damonte. Courtesy The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
The street level entrance leads visitors into a cavernous first floor lobby, then to a 105-foot escalator that takes them through the vault from shade to sudden glow on the column-free third floor. There, they are deposited at Jeff Koons’s colorful stainless steel Tulips (1995-2004), from his “Celebration” series, appropriately enough, and Christopher Wool’s Untitled (1990), nine aluminum panels with stenciled letters spelling out “Run Dog Run,” rendered in enamel and acrylic.
Heyler dedicated the third floor to the art-historical expression of the collection, starting with post-Duchampian works by Johns and Rauschenberg. Koons is in heavy rotation with eight works in the exhibition, but earlier Pop reigns, with Warhol and Lichtenstein given pride of place and depth. Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat that the Broads bought directly from the artist’s studio complement the twitchy energy of Keith Haring’s Red Room (1988) in an unexpected homage to 1980s New York. The oldest work in the show—a 1953 Cy Twombly—anchors a small room that encompasses 50 years of the artist’s career.
Installation view of works by Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and Ed Ruscha in The Broad's third-floor galleries; photo by Bruce Damonte. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
There are some striking juxtapositions in the show, indicating efforts to expand the collection beyond obvious categories. Fall ’91 (1992), a stunning, eight-foot-tall Charles Ray sculpture of a woman in a pink power suit, looms, skylit, next to Dead Troops Talk (1992), a Jeff Wall lightbox depicting a staged battleground scene from a zombie war. Ray and Wall mine two very different facets of human psychology and push against the limits of form. More recent (but nonetheless iconic) works by Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, Mike Kelley, and Kara Walker provide much-needed social and political context to the third floor’s historical progression into the present, while the strong presence of West coast artists—from Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis to Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari—invoke the Southern California light and culture beyond the walls of the museum’s sunny spaces and ground it in the region’s local art history.
The Broad holds few surprises, and most of them reside on the first floor, where newer acquisitions from the last 15 years, or works with a more thematic bent, showcase the collectors’ recent interests. One particularly thought-provoking work is Polish artist Goshka Macuga’s The Death of Marxism, Women of All Lands Unite (2013), a wool tapestry that extends from wall onto floor and shows nude images of women taken by Czech artist Miroslav Tichý, known for his voyeuristic photography, superimposed onto a photo of Marx’s grave. Two live performance artists variously sit and recline languorously at the foot of the composition, implicating the plight of women today in the struggle of the proletariat. The first floor highlights also include photography by Thomas Struth and Sharon Lockhart, and works by Chris Burden and Julie Mehretu.
Installation view of Robert Therrien's "Under the Table" in The Broad's third-floor galleries; photo by Elizabeth Daniels. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Heyler, in a group interview, alluded to the Broads’ political consciousness in a story about Barbara Kruger in the ’80s, who singled out the collectors as some of the few who didn’t shy away from the abrasiveness of her work. “There’s a very notable consistency of social and political themes in the artwork,” Heyler said. “I like the idea that a museum, especially in the complex world that we live in now, is filled with many different kinds of art, but one important part of it is artists who still feel strongly that painful, difficult things in our social condition today need to be addressed.”
On a tour of the exhibition, assistant curator Ed Schad told Artsy what could be expected in terms of future acquisitions. The Broads, he says, are focused on acquiring works that resonate with the public, suggesting the demand for immersive, experiential art. He pointed to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room (2013) and Ragnar Kjartansson’s moving musical video piece, The Visitors (2012), both installed on the first floor, as examples. The public can also expect programming to be oriented around its collection. According to Heyler, “The special exhibitions will always be connected to the collection in one way or another, whether that’s thematically or based on an artist. We want to present the best kind of programming we can here, based on the collection, but not necessarily to the exclusion of loans or even loaned exhibitions.”
The Broad museum's lobby with interior veil; photo by Iwan Baan. Courtesy of The Broad and Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
The Broads have always engaged their collection in dialogue with the larger public by loaning out works widely, but with this new museum they have the ability to educate more directly, and to present thematic, cohesive, and deeply considered exhibitions. This new architectural landmark provides ample space and a malleable platform for them to do so. It will be interesting to see how the collection and exhibitions program continues to evolve as the building, flanked by MOCA and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, further bolsters efforts to make Downtown L.A. an art capital. As Heyler excitedly notes: “I think people who have seen this building go up and seen its exterior will be really challenged and delighted by what they see inside, which is hopefully a counterpoint to what they see outside.”
“The Inaugural Installation” is on view at The Broad, Los Angeles, Sep. 20, 2015–Jan. 17, 2016.