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Our city’s new citadel for contemporary art is an architectural icon in its own right and a significant step in the reinvigoration of Downtown, but what does it say about L.A.?
By Drew Mackie
October 2, 2015 :: 8:00 AM
Here’s a fun game to play when you go to The Broad Museum: “How L.A. is this?” It’s not a question that can be answered easily or quickly, but it’s one this writer couldn’t stop asking while walking through Downtown Los Angeles’ new 120,000-square-foot art fortress.
Opened Sept. 20, it’s a major addition to the contemporary art world, but it’s also a new icon for the city. And as a result of being founded by adopted Angelenos—Eli Broad, the $7 billion man, and wife Edythe—and directed by a native Angeleno, Joanne Heyler, The Broad seems like it should be saying something about Los Angeles.
“Los Angeles is increasingly a major center of contemporary art. Anyone interested in contemporary art, from around the world, now regularly comes here. Between the artists and art institutions based here, you really can’t follow fresh developments in art without visiting L.A.,” says Heyler of The Broad’s spot in the arts landscape.
“I think of the arts institutions in any city as a cultural ecosystem of sorts—multiple venues and multiple approaches keep things interesting for a growing public audience,” she says. “The appetite among the public in L.A.—visitors and locals alike—for the kind of experience of art The Broad offers is strong.”
But how L.A. is the building itself? Very, in the context of Grand Avenue’s gradual transformation into an arts corridor, per Eli Broad’s decree. (Explains Heyler, “The Broads look at their involvement in supporting or initiating many of these projects as a privilege and as a way to play a role in growing the city into one of the world’s great cultural capitals.”) Multiple critics have noted how the $140 million museum building responds to the architecture of the neighboring Disney Concert Hall—matte and porous versus the latter’s metallic and flashy. But it’s also yet another landmark construction that’s divisive in the reactions it elicits. That skeleton-white “veil” of a lattice covering it could be indicative of a new, organic direction for the future of architecture. Some, though, will think it resembles a cheese grater.
How L.A. is it to actually go inside The Broad? Well, the interior lends itself to cinematic comparisons. Both methods of ascending to the museum’s main third-floor showroom—by escalator and glass elevator—have been compared to set pieces from the lair of a James Bond villain. And upon arriving at the top, visitors are greeted by Tulips, Jeff Koons’ 16-foot-long, stainless steel sculpture. The blossoms look impossibly perfect, and they may suggest to you any number of iconically L.A. things, from human bodies molded into uncanny, glossy perfection to an astroturf lawn glowing brighter green than real grass.
How L.A. is The Broad’s inaugural exhibition? Heyler points out that a sculpture by L.A.-based artist Robert Therrien of oversized, irregularly stacked plates greets visitors as they enter the first floor, and among the 250 works currently on display are some by artists based in or otherwise connected to the greater Los Angeles area, including John Baldessari, Edward Ruscha, Chris Burden, Barbara Kruger, Charles Ray, Lari Pittman, Mike Kelley, Mark Bradford and Sharon Lockhart. Partitions divide up the main floor into rooms, and visitors may well feel like they’re traversing a single contemporary art “city” consisting of neighborhoods—Twomblytown, Kara Walkerville, the raw but lively Haring-Basquiat District—and that might suggest L.A., too, if walking from one neighborhood to another weren’t still a rarity in our city.
Surely the size and scale of The Broad suggests L.A. That top floor is massive, though exploring every corner is more easily accomplished than, say, traversing the city in an effort to see all its sights. The exhibition is anchored by landmarks— grand works that beckon from far off—and foremost among these is Takeshi Murakami’s 82-foot-long In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow. The painting mixes the grim and the cartoonish among crashing waves, suggesting Japan’s 2011 tsunami disaster, and the fact that the painting was simply too large to fit on any one wall—and therefore had to be split, snaking around a corner in a room dedicated to Murakami’s creations—underscores how it can dwarf everything and everyone near it.