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Eli’s Coming: A Win-Win for Broad and Downtown LA UPDATED

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Orange “A” marks the spot: The planned site for the Broad Collection

Eli Broad‘s decision, announced yesterday, to build in Downtown LA a Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed museum for his collection should be a cultural and a civic boon for the city: It will help to anchor a tripartite arts district—also including the Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall (the big white building at the top center of the above map) and the Isozaki-designed Museum of Contemporary Art (near the lower left corner). And it will help to energize urban redevelopment in an area that needs a boost. The announcement came as the project was officially greenlighted by the city.

Below is the street (currently with scant foot traffic) where the new Broad-bankrolled facility, costing some $80-100 million, will rise:

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Broad Collection facility will be built to the left of the Disney Concert Hall (above), home to the LA Philharmonic.  MOCA banner is on lamppost to the right.

Back in 2008, when Broad defied expectations by announcing that he would not donate his collection to the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I wrote that it would “be interesting to see if Broad eventually goes the same route as [Donald] Fisher, endeavoring to establish a single-collector museum.”

Ironically, it now turns out that the late Fisher’s contemporary collection has been committed as a 100-year loan to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (which recently selected the Snøhetta architectural firm to design an expansion to house it). Meanwhile, despite his historically strong patronage ties to both LACMA and MOCA, Broad is forging ahead independently, with a 120,000-square-foot museum of his own.

Questions have been raised (in David Ng‘s and Jori Finkel‘s LA Times report) about whether this is one too many contemporary art museums for LA. I say, the more the merrier, particularly since this newcomer comes with a strong collection and sizable endowment—some $200 million—to secure its future beyond the lifetime of its tireless founder, the 77-year-old megacollector/philanthropist. LACMA’s and MOCA’s loss—an important collection that both may have coveted—is still LA’s gain.

According to the Broad Foundation’s announcement (linked at the top):

The Broad Collection [as the new museum is called] will include approximately 50,000 square feet of sky lit galleries, a lecture hall for up to 200 people, and a public lobby with display space and a museum shop. The project will also include state-of-the-art archive, study and art storage space that will be available to scholars and curators who want to research works in the collection and borrow artworks for their institutions through The Broad Art Foundation’s worldwide lending program.

About 300 of the 2,000 works in the Broads’ personal and foundation collections will be shown at any one time, leaving plenty of inventory still available for the loan program.

There will be no director’s search for this new museum: Joanne Heyler, the Broad Foundation’s longtime director and chief curator, steps up to oversee a staff of “about 100 positions, including contract and part-time,” the foundation’s spokesperson, Karen Denne, told me. “It will have a core staff of 15 to 20.”

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Joanne Heyler, director, the Broad Collection

Denne said that while “exact programming is still being developed,” the single-collector museum may occasionally “exhibit works from other collections. But the focus will be on our artists.”

Among those represented in depth: Joseph Beuys, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, John Baldessari, Mike Kelley, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Eric Fischl, Leon Golub, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Glenn Ligon, Sharon Lockhart, Lari Pittman, Charles Ray, Ed Ruscha, Philip Taaffe, Robert Therrien, Terry Winters, Christopher Wool, Richard Artschwager, Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol.

I think that if the Broad is to always remain a vital museum, not a collector’s mausoleum, it will need to Broad-en its sights—developing dynamic programming that views the collection as a springboard, not a straitjacket. This will mean bringing in some new curatorial blood and admitting outside loans into the mix.

[UPDATE: Here are LA Times art critic Christopher Knight‘s suggestions for keeping the Broad Collection vital.]

Details about the architectural design for the new facility will not be released until October, when  construction of a three-story parking garage will begin. Museum construction is expected to begin in 2011, with completion in late 2012.

The LA Times’ architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, got an advance look, a few weeks ago, at the designs submitted by the six finalists for the project, including the winners, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who had also been on the shortlist for SFMOMA’s Fisher-related expansion.

In an article for today’s paper, Hawthorne writes:

The news that New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro has finally, officially been named architect of the new Broad Collection museum in downtown Los Angeles proves a couple of things quite clearly. One is that in a design competition as constrained and carefully controlled as the one Eli Broad has been running, a few big conceptual ideas dramatically presented—rather than an inventive treatment of a building’s shape—can go a long way….

The most dramatic element of the firm’s proposal—its wow moment—is a lobby space that will bring pedestrians entering the museum from Grand Avenue face to face, through glass, with drivers on their way down to the museum’s parking garage.

Yikes! A drive-through museum. “This ain’t no disco. This is LA.” No runaway cars, please. And make sure to budget in some very effective shielding of the museum from exhaust fumes and traffic vibrations.

From his tentative appraisal of the tentative design plans, it appears that Hawthorne shares some of my misgivings about the architects, whose best moment, for me, was the Whitney Museum’s engaging and absorbing 2003 exhibition devoted to their inventive conceptual projects.

According to Hawthorne:

The firm hasn’t always proved that it can turn that flow of ideas into convincing, rigorously built architectural space, as least on an entirely consistent basis. Doing so in this case will be complicated by having the passionate and highly involved Broad as a client.

If he was hands-on during the planning of the lackluster Renzo Piano-designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, imagine how “highly involved” Broad will be in conceiving his own collection’s permanent digs. In the dance between client and architect, Broad, a construction mogul, likes to lead.

an ArtsJournal blog