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ELI BROAD
Sonia Campagnola

Flash Art  258 January – February 08

 

A PROMISING JOINT VENTURE

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Eli Broad started his own real estate business in

Detroit, he couldn’t have imagined that in five decades he’d be number one in the field, the 3rd richest person in Los Angeles — according to Forbes — and, together with his wife Edythe, one of the most active philanthropists in the US as well as an avid art collector. His most recent endeavor in art is a new joint venture with LACMA: the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) opens February 2008 as the centerpiece of the first phase of LACMA’s long-term transformation plan, for which the Broads donated $60 million, including $10 million for new acquisitions and the realization of a 60,000-square-foot new building designed by Renzo Piano. BCAM’s inaugural show is a display of masterpieces from the collection. When I met Mr Broad at 8 am on a Monday morning in his office on the 12th floor of Westwood’s Murdock Plaza, I was his first appointment of the day. I asked him if I could record our conversation. He said, “Please, proceed…”

 

Eli Broad: So, do you want to talk about BCAM?

Sonia Campagnola: Sure, but first do you want to tell me what initially brought you to

collecting?

EB: My wife was the first collector. And I’ve always been interested in things outside of

the world of business. I was on a number of university boards. I chaired a small college board of trustees. I was vice-chair of the state university system. So I’ve always been interested in what other people are thinking outside of business. And I had a friend, who was a great collector, by the name of Taft Schreiber. He got me interested. It became fascinating to meet artists, to meet their dealers, curators, etc. It started in 1973. And the first work we bought was a Van Gogh drawing.

SC: When did you move to contemporary art?

EB: We kept moving in time. We still kept some of the early works of Matisse, Picasso, Miró, but then we moved forward and became rather active in the works of the ’60s and ’70s.

SC: What interests you about collecting? What are you looking for when you seek and discover an artist?

EB: Well, someone that we believe will be of some historical input. We’re not great discoverers. Although, during the East Village scene in the ’80s, we… well, I shouldn’t say we discovered, but we bought a lot of artists very early. Like Cindy Sherman.

We bought her “Untitled Film Stills” for like $150, and have the largest collection in the

world of her work. We bought Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and others early on. And then, as you know, we started The Broad Art Foundation for the purpose of continuing to collect, and lending work to museums throughout the world.

So there’s now 1,800 works in the two collections.

SC: How are the personal collection and the Foundation collection different?

EB: In the personal collection, the work is earlier. It’s Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, Robert

Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein. Most of the younger artists are in the Foundation collection.

SC: Do you get to know and cultivate relationships with the artists that you collect?

EB: Oh, yes. Every artist we collect I know or has been to our home. Jeff Koons is a good friend. Cindy, I know her fairly well…

SC: Who are the artists that you have collected extensively over the last few years?

EB: Well, I mentioned Jean-Michel Basquiat. We have the largest collection of Jeff

Koons’s work of anyone. We have quite a collection of Roy Lichtenstein’s work. And of

course Cindy Sherman.

SC: When you buy a piece, do you like to consult with someone before or do you judge on your own?

EB: Well, I end up judging myself. But I get all the art magazines. I see a lot of shows

throughout the world. And then, you know… we’ve got an art foundation with six people, so some of the background work they’ll do for me.

SC: Do you travel a lot to go to see shows and fairs around the world?

EB: Yes. Like in June, when we went to the Venice Biennale and to Basel. Then we went to London and Paris. We do that twice a year.

SC: Did you visit the Pinault Foundation in Venice? Do you feel there is any affinity with

what you are doing with the BCAM at LACMA and public program of the Pinault

Foundation?

EB: Yes, we visited the Foundation. We didn’t see his initial exhibition, we saw what

was up during the Biennale. It was interesting. I’m not sure if Palazzo Grassi is the greatest place to show that work. Well, we collect some of the same artists. Our interest is having the public see the contemporary work in our collections.

Whether it’s a personal collection or a foundation collection. We have lent work to over 400 museums in the last 25 years.

 

FRANZ ACKERMANN, Home, home again, 2006. Mixed media installation, dimensions variable.

 

SC: To museums in the US?

EB: Yes. And in Europe. The Pompidou. The Tate. A number of German museums. Some even in Africa.

SC: Do you collect a majority of LA artists?

EB: We’ve got a number of LA artists. We’ve got a lot of Ed Ruscha’s work, and a number of other LA artists.

SC: How many works do you buy per year, more or less?

EB: It varies. I would say, well, 20, 30 works a year at least. Although we did buy a Joseph Beuys collection of multiples. Like 600 works from a private collection in Germany. And then we exhibited it at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It was only shown once before, at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.

SC: For instance, how much money did you spend on art last year?

EB: Probably too much… For the personal collection we bought the David Smith Cubi I

(1963), which was very expensive. And then we bought a Cy Twombly, a large painting. We bought two paintings by Jeff Koons, we bought a sculpture by Jeff Koons, a

Cracked Egg (2006).

SC: With your Foundation, you decided to join LACMA and to plan a new building designed by Renzo Piano — funded by you — which will host exhibitions with pieces from your collection, within the LACMA complex.

EB: I believe in public institutions. As you know, we paid for the building. Renzo Piano did a wonderful job. The galleries are spectacular; they are 10,000 square feet, without any columns or anything.

SC: Who decided upon Renzo Piano, you or LACMA?

EB: I made the decision. Before that, there was a competition, five or six years ago. And they chose Rem Koolhaas, but that didn’t work out. Piano would not compete. He

doesn’t have to go to competitions, nor does Frank Gehry. So I went to see him in Paris, and told him he had to do this building. And he said he was too busy. So I said: “You have to do it.” He said: “Why?” I said: “We’ve got the money, you only have to deal with me, and with the director, and we have a program. We know exactly what we want.”

So he came and looked at the campus, and said he wouldn’t just do the building unless he could redo the entire campus. As you know, we have the entrance pavilion and we got rid of the parking garage, which went underground. It’s very exciting.

SC: What would you like the role of BCAM to be in the LA art scene?

EB: I think it’ll show the best collections of contemporary art in the Los Angeles area. There are going to be various other exhibitions over the years.

 

MARK BRADFORD, Untitled (Gwen), 2005-06. Mixed media collage, 284 x 365 cm;

The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica.

 

SC: Always with works sourced from your collections?

EB: Yes. We intend to continue to lend work. Whatever they want to show.

SC: LACMA is a great location, but did you ever think of MOCA, which is the museum in LA that is strictly committed to contemporary art, as a natural container for your collection?

EB: Well, I was a founding chairman of MOCA. I started MOCA. But MOCA and Paul Schimmel seem more interested in doing exhibitions than showing a permanent collection. For example, I dealt with count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. I negotiated the Panza collection. He used to stay at our house. But if you go to the museum, where is it a great work of Panza? You don’t see the Rothkos, you don’t see the Rauschenbergs, you don’t see the Kleins. Then I went on the board of LACMA about 11 years ago. It was an opportunity to change the museum from what it was, which was very tired, and to build something very different: a new LACMA. With a great new young director, younger people being involved, a new building, a new campus.

SC: So, Michael Govan was your idea?

EB: Well, yeah, myself and Bobby Kotick, another trustee. It took some effort to convince him to leave New York and to come here.

SC: Do you think you will help with acquisitions in the future, for the museum?

EB: Yes, they’ll be acquiring new works. I just bought for the museum the great work of

Richard Serra, Band (2006). Did you see it in New York? It’ll look a lot better in our

building than it did in MoMA, because the galleries are so much bigger and better. On the first floor they’ll have Band, which was at the north end of MoMA. And the other work at the south end, is also going to be in our building.

SC: Will you have a staff only for the BCAM?

EB: No, the people at our Foundation are working with the people at LACMA, but Michael’s responsible for all of that. We’re just lending him whatever he wants.

SC: So the program is the responsibility of Michael, or you…

EB: Yes, but we consult with one another. But whatever Michael wants to do… we see

things very much the same way.

SC: Here in LA, do you go to the galleries?

EB: Yes, sometimes. It depends what they have. Sure, we go to Gagosian, we go to Margo Leavin and other galleries.

SC: What do you think of the LA art scene? Is it really growing up as people say?

EB: Well, I think Los Angeles can become the contemporary art capital. We’ve got great art schools here. UCLA is, I think, maybe number one in America. USC, CalArts, Art Center College of Design. If you go to the Whitney Biennial, about 40% of the works comes from California artists here. We’ve got a great group of artists, we’re going to have more space to show contemporary art between the Hammer Museum, BCAM, LACMA, MOCA, and then a number of university galleries. You’ve got more and more collectors. And what we’re doing at BCAM, we’ve got a lot of new young trustees that are collectors from the entertainment industry and elsewhere. I think it’s growing very rapidly.

SC: Do you think you will devote a part of the program, and part of the gallery, to young artists from LA?

EB: On occasion, but not in the first year. No, I think between the Hammer and MOCA, they may do more with the younger artists than we’ll do. At LACMA, in the campaign we’ve raised over $250 million I think so far. We have a big endowment and a much bigger budget. After the initial opening, I know they’re going to have an exhibition of German art during the Cold War period, curated by Stephanie Barron [and Eckhart Gillen]. And then I don’t know what they’ll have in 2009 and 2010. We may… No one has done a Jeff Koons retrospective since the early ’90s.… I think it could happen at BCAM. We’re going to have a lot of Jeff Koons’s work at the opening. As you know, we have everything from the Rabbit to the Balloon Dog. We have about 30 works of Jeff. So… it’s exciting.

 

Sonia Campagnola is Senior U.S. Editor of Flash Art.

Eli Broad was born in Detroit in 1933. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

 
 

CINDY SHERMAN, Untitled #228, 1990. Color photograph, 208 x 121 cm.

Courtesy The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica

 

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