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LACMA Lays an Egg: Broad Reneges

The Unfortunate Image on LACMA’s Homepage: Jeff Koons, “Cracked Egg (Red),” Broad Art Foundation © Jeff Koons
The Feb. 16 public opening of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s new Broad Contemporary Art Museum will now be almost as hollow and broken as the Koons egg, above, that serves as BCAM’s homepage logo.
And while we’re musing on the irony of images, we must also note that the NY Times chose to illustrate today’s jaw-dropping piece by Edward Wyatt, announcing Eli Broad‘s decision not to give his collection to LACMA, with the same photo it had used on its Sept. 6 front page to illustrate Stephanie Strom‘s pernicious piece that disparaged charitable donations for cultural institutions.
According to Wyatt, Broad “has decided to retain permanent control of his works in an independent foundation that makes loans to museums rather than give any of the art away.” That’s essentially status quo for the Broad Art Foundation, which, according to its website description, makes art “available for loan to museums and university galleries through its ‘lending library’ program. Since its inception in 1984, artworks from the Foundation’s collection have appeared in exhibitions at over 400 museums, universities, and other public venues, and have been viewed by approximately one million people per year.”
In my spoof New Years’s “resolutions” list for artworld luminaries, I had suggested that Broad needed to stop pontificating about the “art-market bubble” and make sure that the new BCAM would not be an empty bubble. I had been hoping (in fact, expecting) that at the inauguration of the 60,000-square-foot exhibition space designed by Renzo Piano, he would announce the donation of his collection to LACMA. He hasn’t technically “reneged” on an explicit promise (as my headline might seem to suggest). But his evasive action meets my dictionary’s second definition of that word: “To fail to follow suit, when able in a card game.”
Like San Francisco’s Donald Fisher, Broad didn’t want to give his work to a public institution that wasn’t “willing to commit to show it” full time and in bulk, as he made clear in his comments to Wyatt. It will be interesting to see if Broad eventually goes the same route as Fisher, endeavoring to establish a single-collector museum.
Now LACMA has a building named for a collector who gave it not only $50 million for the capital campaign, $10 million for acquisitions, and (on loan) the bulk of the objects in its inaugural show, but also a certain aura of defeat on the eve of what should have been an unqualified triumph.
Will other art owners now rush to fill the Broad vacuum, donating works to a facility named for a rival collector? As it happens, last month I had asked Barbara Pflaumer, LACMA’s press chief, whether there were any signs that other potential art donors were put off by the Broad imprimatur.
Pflaumer wrote:
This isn’t a problem….We haven’t announced the naming yet, but there will be at least one collector of consequence who will have their [sic] name on one of the galleries in BCAM.
Meanwhile, Broad is already looking ahead to the next Broad Art Museum: On Jan. 15, he and his wife Edythe will host the press announcement of the winner among five well known architect-finalists for designing Michigan State University’s new modern and contemporary art museum. The Broads have donated $26 million towards that eponymous project—the largest individual cash gift in the history of the university, where Eli is an alumnus. Groundbreaking is expected this fall.
Will MSU join LACMA as another “favored institution” for Broad Art Foundation loans?

an ArtsJournal blog