Downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.
Downtown Los Angeles. Photo by John Schreiber.

Billionaire Eli Broad’s $140 million shrine to his 2,000-piece contemporary art collection in downtown Los Angeles is expected to draw large crowds in its opening weeks, with the chief curator saying Wednesday at least 85,000 tickets have already been reserved prior to the museum’s Sunday grand opening.

The Broad museum showed signs of its potential popularity earlier this month when its ticketing website crashed, apparently overwhelmed by patrons enticed by the museum’s striking architecture, free admission and extensive art collection.

The Broad permanently houses a collection — featuring works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha, Kara Walker and Takashi Murakami — that Broad and his wife, Edye, have been lending out to other venues all over the world for the past 30 years, curator and founding director Joanne Heyler said.

Heyler described the museum as the Broads’ “gift to L.A.” and “the latest and most profound expansion of one couple’s passionate curiosity for art and the result of their determination to make it available to everyone.”

The Broad’s inaugural exhibit was met earlier this week by a lukewarm review in the New York Times, with the critic describing the museum and its collection as “old-fashioned.” Heyler made no direct mention of the less-than- glowing review, but said she intentionally chose a “straightforward, wide-lens chronological approach” to showing off the Broads’ art collection.

She cast the museum as an opportunity to offer a comprehensive look at a collection that has only “been seen in fragments over the years.”

Heyler added that the collection includes a “deep concentration” of pop art from the 1950s and 1960s, providing “a truly unique opportunity to experience these rare master works free.”

The 82-year-old Broad, who amassed his $7 billion fortune through his real estate business, said the art collection was built over a nearly 50-year period and fueled by an interest in art acquisition that became “not only a passion, but also an addiction.”

Broad said he and his wife have made 8,000 loans to “500 different museums and galleries on every continent” through an art foundation they set up in 1984 to make their collection publicly available.

Broad said he felt it was particularly important for the museum to bring more recent art to a wider audience.

“Contemporary art is the art of our time,” he said. “It reflects an important social, political and social commentary on the world which we live.”

To illustrate this point, Broad cited familiar Warhol pieces depicting pop culture icons like Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, and Barbara Kruger’s feminist statement piece “Your Body is a Battleground” that served as “a symbol of the 1980s women’s march on Washington.”

Also on display is a charcoal drawing by Robert Longo showing a hazy scene of riot police in Ferguson, Missouri, providing commentary that is especially relevant in the present day, Broad said.

Broad and others highlighted the museum’s architecture, which has the task of measuring up to its neighbor, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Broad said museum planners initially wondered how they would “design a building that doesn’t clash with Frank Gehry’s masterpiece but also is not anonymous.”

Their answer came in the form of a design by the firm Diller Scofidio+Renfro that features a white, latticed exterior wrapped around a cool subterranean-like interior.

Architect Elizabeth Diller said the “porous and matte” feel of The Broad creates a “relationship of contrasts” with its neighbor’s “smooth and shiny” attributes.

All 2,000 or so pieces of The Broad’s collection, with the exception of a life-sized fire truck, are locked away inside a “vault” that appears suspended at the center of the three-story building, a departure from the practice by other museums of storing collections in off-site warehouses.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said The Broad is the “crown” of a thriving city center. He hailed the museum as another reminder that Los Angeles is the “contemporary art capital of the world,” as Broad described it many years ago.

Garcetti said that view raised the eyebrows of his New York friends at the time, but “now, I think very few dispute that the best creators are here.”

— City News Service 

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