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Broad-sided: Michael Govan on the Elusive Eli

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Michael Govan
Despite Eli Broad‘s recent bombshell, Michael Govan still hopes that key pieces from the collector’s 2,000-work contemporary trove may eventually become the “backbone” of LACMA’s permanent display.
In a wide-ranging discussion with me late Wednesday (which got bumped from the blog because of “all Philippe, all the time”), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s director indicated he wasn’t blindsided by Broad’s determination to lend his works, rather than donate them. Govan said that the understanding between the museum and Broad, 73, remains what it has always been: LACMA can, at any time, borrow up to 200 works from the Broad Art Foundation. Upon his death, the deal can be renegotiated by the foundation.
The only thing that caught Govan off guard was the bad timing of Broad’s public airing (in a NY Times interview) of his private thinking—just a little more than a month before the opening of LACMA’s new Broad Contemporary Art Museum.
Govan told me:
Nothing has changed….I wasn’t planning to deal with the permanency issue until we were up and running and opened.
Over time, Govan said, he was hoping to convince Broad to allow a “strong group of work” to be on permanent display at LACMA, preferably as a gift, but possibly on longterm loan. “It’s not logical to discuss this until he sees the works in the building. Until this came out in the paper, it wasn’t an issue. It was, ‘Let’s borrow the works. We’re going to show you an installation. Then we’ll talk about how to think about the long term.’ It seemed like a logical process.”
About 80 percent of works in the inaugural exhibition will come from Broad. In the future, Govan said, “we have carte blanche to borrow from the Broad Collection, and it’s under our control.”
When LACMA (under a previous director) mounted a traveling exhibition of Broad’s collection in 2001, he said in a Q&A, published in the show’s catalogue:
Our current thoughts are to give the collection to one or more arts institutions—probably in the Los Angeles area, which has been our home.
Now, in a statement released in connection with the current kerfuffle, Broad says:
As our collections have grown dramatically, our thinking has evolved. We now feel that we can best serve museums by continuing to make accessible a common collection of contemporary art that is shared among many institutions. The foundation will pay for staffing, insurance, storage and conservation of the work.
The foundation and our personal collection contain 2,000 works. We don’t plan to sell any works, and in fact, we plan to continue building both collections. When my wife and I are gone, we anticipate that our foundation’s continuing leadership will draw on the expertise of museum directors and other advisors to continue guiding the vision my wife and I have established….
We have developed a new paradigm by creating a common collection at The Broad Art Foundation. We would expect that other major collectors might choose a similar route, rather than creating their own museum or donating works to one or several museums.

There are lots of problems with Broad’s trying to advance his personal solution as a new paradigm for collectors. But enough of Broad. Let’s move on to the important stuff. An assistant professor of art history (not from California or New York) sent me the following e-mail on Wednesday:
What do you think are Govan’s chances for the Met [director’s] position, after some exceptionally bad timing which could conflate the Broad announcement with that of the Met’s?
On second thought, let’s not go there. Govan convincingly asserts that right now he’s concentrating on LACMA.
What else would you expect him to say?

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