A lot is happening inside the Broad Museum’s new $140 million building on Grand Avenue downtown, as the staff gears up for the museum’s debut on September 20th. Among their first orders of business: moving Eli and Edythe Broad’s vast collection into the building.
“You can imagine just moving your office after 30 years, let alone moving a collection of about 2,000 works,” says Director of Collections Management Vicki Gambill. A lot of the art is moving from the Santa Monica building that has housed the Broad Art Foundation since 1988 — the rest has been on loan to other institutions or in storage at fine art warehouses around Los Angeles.
So how does the art make it into the new museum?
“For about the past month, we’ve been moving a fully packed tractor trailer in every day,” says Head Preparator Julia Latane. Latane supervises a team of art handlers that carefully wheels the elaborately-crated artworks out of the trucks and into the museum. Even for an experienced crew, moving these valuable, fragile and sometimes enormous artworks can be nerve-wracking. “Things that make me the most nervous are things that are really tall, long, narrow and very top-heavy,” says Latane.
Tom Rosenquist, one of the art handlers assisting with the move, says the job requires “good hands,” which he defines as “somewhere between strength and gentleness.” Many art handlers are themselves artists or musicians — they rely on teamwork and manual dexterity to prevent any damage to the artworks. But that doesn’t stop them from imagining any number of nightmare scenarios. “Anything can happen,” says Rosenquist. “A tape measure could fall off your belt and go through the front of a painting. That would be very, very bad," he says with a laugh.
Once the crated art passes through the museum's loading dock, it travels up a huge elevator nicknamed “Big John” (after the worker who operated it during construction), headed either for storage or for the 35,000 square-foot gallery on the third floor. That’s where Broad Founding Director Joanne Heyler is overseeing the installation of the museum’s inaugural exhibition, a chronologically arranged selection of highlights of the Broad collection.
She's has been working on this exhibition for more than two years, shifting stamp-sized reproductions of paintings around a dollhouse-scale model of the building’s exhibition spaces. Still, she's not quite finished fine-tuning the roster, even as the opening date approaches. “The inaugural installation will probably land at about 250 works,” she says, noting that the public will be able to glimpse additional pieces through windows that overlook the building’s storage “vault.”
“We’re all developing a relationship with this building and with the galleries, and of course with the collection,” says Heyler, who compares the new structure to a 36,000-ton newborn baby. “We have a whole future ahead of us as a museum.”