This Sunday, L.A.'s newest art museum, The Broad, opens to the public, just across the street from Disney Hall. For the first time, the public can see the blue-chip art collection of one of the city's biggest philanthropists in one place. Admission is free, and so far, more than 100,000 people have gone online for a free ticket.
The media was offered a sneak preview Wednesday. I went so I could give you a sense of what to expect and what to watch for in the future. But the story of The Broad actually begins more than 40 years ago when a young married couple — homebuilding mogul Eli Broad and his wife Edythe — were out visiting.
"We had a good friend who had a beautiful art collection," Edythe says. "And we were at his house and Eli said to him, 'My wife likes this and I don't know why.'"
Edythe Broad says Eli started reading up on art, they started buying it, and soon their house was filled … so they started a foundation to lend their art to museums. The Broad Foundation was run by the woman who became the $140-million museum's first director, Joanne Heyler.
At the press event, Heyler sought to establish the new museum's bona fides: "It's true that we have an extraordinary new architectural landmark of a home. It's true that we're offering the collection to the public for free admission. We're embarking on a profound new beginning. But the Broad collection has had a public purpose for over 30 years."
Jori Finkel, a reporter who covers art for The New York Times, says the big question about The Broad is "whether the collection will feel alive. We don't want this to be a portrait of a collector who has finished building his collection."
In her remarks at the press opening, museum director and chief curator Joanne Hyler did address Finkel's concern, saying the 2,000 work collection — by Post-War and Contemporary artists like Jeff Koons, Cy Twombley, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger — is growing by an average of one piece every week.
And if current events are any indication, it'll keep on growing. At the press opening, Broad said, "I'm often asked why it's important for people to have access to contemporary art. The answer is simple: contemporary art is the art of our time. It reflects an important social, political, and cultural commentary on the world in which we live." Then he referred to Ferguson, feminism and Elvis … all represented in the first exhibit of 250 works from the Broad collection.
Jon Regardie, Off-Ramp commentator and executive editor of the Los Angeles Downtown News, says it's a big day for L.A.: "This is the biggest thing to hit downtown in a dozen years. You have to go back to the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall to find something as big. There was a mini-bump about five years ago with the opening of the Ralph's supermarket, but some would say this is bigger," he laughs. It'll draw international attention to downtown.
When the doors finally open to the public Sunday, you should look for a tall gray-haired man named Ric Scofidio, who's with the architecture firm that designed the building with its criss-cross exoskeleton, amusement park escalator, peekaboo art vault and main gallery floor bathed in wonderful natural light. The art — especially some huge pieces, like Kara Walker's full wall-size silhouettes of U.S. slavery scenes — benefits from all the room it's given to breathe.
If you're watching for Scofidio, he's watching for you. "I really want to come back on Sunday," he said Wednesday, "when the public is here. That will tell me much more about how the building is used."
Let's give the last word to the man whose name is on the building. I asked Eli Broad how he thought the new building was working with his art. "It works exceptionally well. Better than anything we deserved."