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The Broad museum's architecture is as compelling as the art inside


BY SPENCER BAILEY
PORTRAIT BY BRIAN GUIDO

With Joanne Heyler at the helm and a bold new museum, the Broad Foundation extends its impact.

 

Heating Joanne Heyler declare that billionaire philanthropist and entrepreneur Eli Broad “might be the O.G. of Pop Art collecting” isn’t just refreshing; it’s also telling of both the forward thinking culture at the Broad foundation—which Heyler joined as an assistant curator in 1989 and has been in charge of since 1995—and her familial relationship with the man who created it.

            So what makes Eli an “original gangsta,” at least when it comes to Pop Art? For one thing, there’s the Broad museum’s collection of nearly 2,000 works dating from the 1950s to the present day, by more than 200 artists, including 28 Warhols, 34 Lichtensteins, 124 prints by Cindy Sherman, and eight pieces by Kara Walker. For another, the institution has loaned more than 8,000 works to 500-plus museums since it opened in 1984.

            Yet another reason: Eli’s presence as a collector was long unparalleled. According to Heyler, the collection comes out of a post-war sensibility, tying one way or another back to the Pop Aesthetic. “That taste has become central to the art market,” she says. “But it wasn’t when the Broads launched the foundation. Eli didn’t come along and try to just imitate what others were doing.”

            The Broads—Eli and his wife, Edythe—started collecting in the ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that they became immersed in the contemporary art scene. They bought up works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Christopher Wool while those artists were in their prime. “When I started to take the lead role, it was a moment of taking stock and looking back at the last 1 years or so,” Heyler says. “There was not a conscious thought at that time of ‘Okay, we’re going to build a museum.’”

            And then, eventually, there was, and now it’s here. The new 120,000-square-foot, $140-million building housing the collection reflects the Broad Foundation’s ambitious focus. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, it not only stands out but also looks unlike any other museum. This despite the fact that it’s situated in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles on a site adjacent to Frank Gehry’s swooping Walt Disney Concert Hall, which is rightfully one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. “This building manages to respect Disney Hall through counterpoint,” Heyler says. “It’s not trying to be as exuberant on the exterior. We really thought DSR did it incredibly thoughtfully.

            Contextual though it may be, the Broad also seeks to be noticed. “The architecture is amost always present,” Heyler says. “The building is just completely taking your attention.” Integrated into exhibition spaces on the first and third floors is a “vault” for collection storage; its sculpted, cavelike underside serves as the lobby’s ceiling, its topside the base of the third-floor gallery.

            Of the third floor, or “veil”, Heyler says: “It kind of calms you down—the geometry of the sky-liy ceiling is dramatic, but it’s 23 feet high, We thought about that quite a bit: Will those diagonals really be too distracting?” The answer is, well, sort of. But the honey-combed roof is distracting in a welcome way, something to look at in between taking in the column-free, art-packed space, a way to recalibrate and clear the head, an element that allows visitors to take in the legion of artworks.

            If the number of opening-week visitors to the museum—which is free and open to the public—are any indication, the Broad’s distinct mix of highly Instagrammable architecture and art is an extremely successful recipe, both for how to bring more visitors to a largely pedestrian-free neighborhood and how to further engage the public. On opening day, slightly less than 3,000 people came through the museums doors, and in a single 24-hour period 10,000 people reserved time slots for visits on the Broad’s website. Within a few days of opening, a total of 180,000 people had registered to come.

            Whether these numbers can be sustained remains in question—surely the massive media attention has helped—but if Heyler has her say, the space will continue to evolve as a new center, physically and metaphorically, at the cultural core of Los Angeles. “We’re still adding artists to the collection,” she says. We’ve added quite a few recently, and we don’t anticipate that stopping. Eli has always said, since we started the museum project, that he doesn’t want this to be a static place in any sense.” Among the recent artist additions are Tauba Auerbach, Ella Kruglyanskaya, Goshka Macuga, Alex Israel, and Jordan Wolfson.

            All of the work enters the collection only after a conversation between Eli Heyler. It’s this sort of direct and clear communication—a somewhat rare thing in the museum world—that helps explain why the Broad has been able to grow its collection and build a museum so quickly.

            Of working with Heyler and the Broad team, architect Elizabeth Diller says, “We put democracy aside.” With projects like, she says, this isn’t normal having to deal with many voices. “In this case, there were the ambitions of the architecture, and those of showing the collection as well as possible, and of storing the collection in the best-quality back-of0house space.” Despite such lofty ambitions, there aren’t many clashes. “We were really able to work as a team,” she says. “It was efficient.”

            This streamlined approach also explains the transparency about the Broad’s future: Eli is prepared to pay the foundation’s way forward. “We aren’t planning to do fundraising,” Heyler says. Instead, the plan is to have a self-sustaining museum with a minimum endowment of $200 million; traditional private fundraising isn’t in the works, though Heyler says corporate sponsorships may be considered down the line. “I’m lucky that I can focus that much more on the collection [than fundraising],” she adds.

            Los Angeles is lucky, too. Over the past dew decades, Eli has come to the fore as a, well, broad-minded benefactor, an economic titan whose philanthropy extends deeply into the cultural life of the city. With the Broad museum, L.A. strengthens its position even further as one of the world’s leading art capitals. As Heyler puts it, the foundation isn’t just about writing a check. “The Broads do that critical act, but they also work to make institutions and cities—and L.A. in particular—better.”