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The Broad view

In Los Angeles, Eli Broad shares his multi-million dollar contemporary art collection with the public, at no cost

The Broad view
The Broad, the view from outside.

Gigantic rubber dogs, naked women aside Marx’s grave and Campbell soup cans – contemporary art can be rebellious, shocking, offensive yet revealing. Thanks to The Broad, contemporary art’s new home in downtown Los Angeles, it can all be experienced under one roof.

A sunny Saturday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles is a kind of hiatus for the busy commercial hub. Monday through Friday, it’s a collection of small businesses, large corporations and government offices. On the weekends, the minimal car and pedestrian traffic signifies inertia — otherwise impossible. But a recent star attraction has emerged in the form of The Broad. With online tickets sold-out for the next three months, even prior to the opening, art buffs line up for hours to be admitted. A good number is also turned away for lack of space on the weekends. This last Saturday too, the wait-time automatically escalated to more than an hour with the number of people growing every minute.

Pronounced Broad, as in road, the museum takes its name from its patron Eli Broad, the multi-billionaire businessman and philanthropist who has collected/showing more than 2000 post-war and contemporary art pieces from his private collection at the museum. In his late 70s, Eli Broad is a self-made man who made money initially from real state and has recently received accolades for being one of the most generous men in America. He, along with his wife, Edythe, has been collecting post-war art for more than three decades which is now being shared with public.

Patron of numerous other generous projects, The Broad has made Eli Broad the Santa Claus of modern art. Not that he is the only billionaire with ambitious projects but this social gesture of sharing his personal collection has made him a new favourite as he calls it, “a gift to the city of Los Angeles”.

Built in over five years, The Broad holds more than 2000 pieces of post-war and contemporary art worth $2.5 billion. The building is probably the first piece of art you encounter as you enter the parking structure. Built by Diller, Scofidio and Renfro, it stands at 50,000 square feet with 35,000 ground level and an additional 15,000 on the third floor galleries. Not the boring numbers, but the concept and division of the building is remarkable. The outer structure of the building has what the architects behind the venture are calling a “veil covering the vault” concept; the veil covering the vaults of important pieces within.

The Broad has made Eli Broad the Santa Claus of modern art. Not that he is the only billionaire with ambitious projects but this social gesture of sharing his personal collection has made him a new favourite...

However, that is not the first image that comes to mind upon first seeing the building which stands right next to the traditional Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Broad’s building seems less inviting than most of the art it displays. Set in the background of dull, practical architecture, The Broad hardly comes out as a winner, curious nonetheless.

The main lobby is equally, perhaps purposefully, dowdy. It’s like the inside of a grey concrete structure and not a museum. What that does, however, is invite the eye directly to the liminal light from the inner galleries that accommodate artists including John Currin, Albert Oehlen, Chris Burden and Takashi Murakami among others.

Here, Ragnar Kjartansson’s music installation is perhaps one of the most intriguing and engaging — if you have the patience. Placed in a dark room covered with black cloth are nine screens where the artist, along with his friends, is seen playing an instrument and singing for an hour, each person per screen, separate yet synchronised. Because the recordings are produced in one single take, you might find yourself in the middle of a ‘switch’ when the loud, energetic music slowly transforms into melancholic tunes of each subject.

‘End of Line’ by Takashi Murakami.

‘End of Line’ by Takashi Murakami.

Also on the first floor is Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored room, in which each visitor gets only forty seconds. It is filled with mirrors and small LED lights giving millions of dimensions to the compact room. Because of limited space, bookings have to be made weeks before the planned visit.

On the same floor is the dreadful yet colourful works of the Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami. He has studied the ‘thousand-year-old Japanese painting convention and technique, which he combines with meditations on contemporary bright colours, toys and cartoons’. Unlike most modern art, Murakami’s work plays on the natural disaster like the 2011 Tohuki tsunami and earthquake. His ‘In the Land of the Dead,’ spans two whole walls of the inner gallery.

A still from Ragnar Kjartansson's ‘The Visitors’.

A still from Ragnar Kjartansson’s ‘The Visitors’.

Instead of the second floor, the escalator takes you directly from the first or ground floor to the third. The second floor can be seen on the way, the conference room and painting in the vault submerged in dim light. Although it’s open to public, this floor has a lecture hall and archives works. While the first-level galleries are ‘safe’ for kids, those on the first floor have warnings for younger children.

Jeff Koon’s ‘Tulips’ welcome you here. Before you think Van Gogh, these tulips are ‘mirror-polished, stainless steel with transparent color coating.’ Koon works around birthday and party themes. His iconic pieces were seen all around LA before the museum’s inauguration as a part of its pre-opening marketing through billboards etc. His famous ‘Balloon dog’ and ‘Rabbit’, both in stainless steel, represent the essence of Koon’s works, toys and lush colours.

Jeff Koon's Tulips.

Jeff Koon’s Tulips.

Among other interesting works was the truculent work of Kara Walker who ‘examines the horrors of slavery before, during and after the civil war’. Working with the 19th century technique of silhouetting, she incorporates ‘subjugation, depravity and desire,’ through charged sexual imagery.

American icon Roy Lichtenstein has more than thirty works at the museum. Lichtensein who ‘parodies the existentialist melodrama of abstract expressionism’ might be familiar from his famous ‘I…I’m Sorry’ which, according to The New York Times was bought for $2.5 million. He, along with artists like Andy Warhol, is considered a pioneer of inventing connection between popular culture and art. Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup cans is a part of his favourite and enduring series of soup cans.

‘Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away’, by Yayoi Kusama.

‘Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away’, by Yayoi Kusama.

Some of the other artists here include Robert Therrien (Under the Table), Richard Prince, CY Towmbly and numerous others who made it from just Mr Broad’s personal collection to his personal collection at The Broad.

The Broad could be a revelation. After The Getty Center – also Paul Getty’s private collection – with its classic European outlook, The Broad’s modern character stand as an example of the need to take art from the drawing room to the public space irrespective of its origin and purpose.

Sarah Sikandar

Sarah Sikandar copy
The author is a freelance writer based in the US. She can be reached at sikandar.sarah@gmail.com.

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