Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Broad Museum

As mentioned previously, my son’s celebration of my birthday included tickets to the  new Broad museum in Los Angeles which I have read a lot about but never seen.  Frankly, it was not at the top of my “must see list” since contemporary art is not my field of interest and there are so many other museums to see in LA.  I learned yet again, try everything, you never know!

Eli Broad bought his first real estate at age 20 and co-founded home builder Kaufman & Broad in 1957 with $25,000 borrowed from his in-laws.   Thanks to the Baby Boom, KB Homes became a tremendous success in affordable housing.

Later he also bought Sun Life Insurance and sold it for 18 Billion.  Forbes has his net worth at 6.7 Billion and the foundations he and his wife, Edythe, founded have assets of 3 Billion!  As my father would have said, “for some people that is their entire fortune!”

The Broads built up their art collection over a half century and gave it an appropriate setting in a Frank Gehry-designed building on their Brentwood Estate. While others say that one has to wait half a century to see if the art stands up, the Broads believed that to build a proper collection you had to collect while the paint was still wet!   Like most patrons they knew what they liked and knew what they wanted so, according to Eli Broad, he had trouble getting along on museum boards and I am sure they felt the same way about him!

The Broads switched their patronage from one institution to another in L.A. and in the first decade of this century they decided that the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA) needed a building devoted to contemporary art. They collected only the “Best” artists work and that included, architects, so they asked Renzo Piano to build a three-story edifice on the LACMA campus which opened in 2008. The Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA has 60,000 square feet of galleries and rotating contemporary art exhibitions. It was assumed that their collection would follow but that was not to be. 

No sooner had they finished the LAMA project, they started to think about their own museum for their personal collection.  The Broads decided again on star museum architects, this time Diller Scofidio & Renfro, to build their two-floor 120,000 square foot space. Half is devoted to gallery space and the rest houses the Broad Art Foundation’s worldwide lending library which for almost, 35 years has been lending works of art out to museums.  Titled simply “The Broad”, their museum opened in September of 2015 and has had about 2,500,000 visitors to date.

Thank goodness Hunter had pre-ordered the timed tickets or we would not have gotten in. I must admit that the space is very impressive.  The galleries are huge have the advantage of 16-foot movable partitions that are up to the the challenge of a flexible presentation of the large-scale art that is the taste today.

The Broads believe in collecting in depth so on their museum website I found 14 paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat.  When we were there “Eyes and Eggs”, a 9.9 x 8.1, foot painting from 1983 was on view.  What might look a bit cartoonish in an illustration certainly is impressive when you are directly confronted by it in the museum.

Devoting a room to a single artist does make an impact especially if you already have some interest in him or her - it also gives you an opportunity to change or modify your opinion.  Unfortunately, if you do not feel positive about the artist’s work in the first place it can also solidify your original thoughts.  I have been fascinated by Jeff Koons who is one of the hottest artists around.  Why?, because I have heard he is a collector of old master paintings and sculpture which I have handled for over half a century and  I know it takes a certain sophisticated and educated taste.   Then why does Koons make oversized balloon like sculpture and this “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988)?  Seeing at the presentation of Koons’ work at the Broad did not provide an answer.

Michael M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles

One room that blew my mind had an oversized painting, to say the least, over 10 x 20 feet by one of my very favorite contemporary artists, Anselm Kiefer.   Some years ago, I spent over 3 hours with a friend in the Kiefer exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris.   The Broad painting takes up a whole wall and totally envelopes you.  I felt that I could get lost in the picture!  The painting is called “Deutschlands Geisteshelden” (1973) (Germany’s Spiritual Heroes).  The Broad explains that Kiefer positions the viewer at ”the mouth of a great hall” which includes aspects of the artist’s former studio and a known German hunting Lodge used to store looted art by the Nazis.  You see no art but on the walls the names of German Artists that had figured in this painful chapter of history.  Clearly his sympathies are with the artists.  Here is an image of the painting and yours truly immersed in it.

Michael M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles
Photo: Hunter Stiebel

If you are interested in art and go to museums, you never know what you will find. There will be works you’ll like and those you won’t, but if you don’t make the venture, you will never know.  I found the Broad definitely worth the visit. 

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