Eli Broad and his wife Edythe, along with Mayor Eric Garcetti and a gaggle of media and museum officials, got together today to tour the new contemporary art venue on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, the Broad. But wait, you might be asking — isn't there already a contemporary art venue on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles? Yes, MOCA will be directly across the street. Broad, the real estate mogul, philanthropist and art collector, was also instrumental in the creation of that museum (he was its founding chairman when the Museum of Contemporary Art was conceived in 1980, and donated $1 million of seed money to get it started.) But recently he felt compelled to add his own building — along with art collected over 40 years — into the mix of architectural landmarks on the Grand Avenue corridor. The building, a triangular soaring honeycomb designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is intended to be unique but mindful of its whimsical neighbor Disney Hall. The design is fascinating but certainly not understated and will probably get its share of visitors just to see the building and its state of the art features and design. Eli Broad also announced today that he wanted his collection to be "shared with the broadest possible audience," and so admission will be free.
MOCAphiles should not worry, however, as the Broad will encourage its visitors to cross the street by constructing a walkway across Grand Avenue, making it easy and convenient to see what's on exhibit at the neighbor's place.
"Isn't this museum going to eat MOCA's lunch?" one of the gaggle was heard to wonder, engaging Joanne Heyler, founding director of the Broad in a question many have asked themselves. Do we really need two contemporary art museums showing relatively the same stuff right across the street from each other? Heyler confirmed the Broad's commitment to working with all the cultural institutions on the Grand Avenue corridor and intimated that Eli Broad will still support MOCA financially. They feel there is enough audience to go around. And given Mr. Broad's finances, the Broad won't have to turn a profit anytime soon.
The city's leaders are trying hard to make Grand Avenue into the town square of Los Angeles. The Broad will be the latest star in their constellation. It remains to be seen how those efforts to draw Angelenos and tourists will pan out, but if it isn't successful it won't be for lack of trying. Ticking off the names of the major architects involved in or near Grand Avenue, Broad listed an impressive lot: Frank Gehry's Disney Hall, Arata Isozaki's MOCA, Coop Himmelb(l)au's High School for the Arts on Sunset, Thom Mayne's Caltrans building down the hill on 1st Street and Jose Rafael Moneo's Cathedral Our Lady of the Angels at Temple and Grand. Judging from the tourists who flock to Disney Hall for souvenir photos of their trips to LA, and the Angelenos who want the building in their wedding photos, the architectural draw is strong. Once the newness wears off, we'll see if the Broad becomes a real destination or a honeycombed ego trip.
Broad and his wife, well-known philanthropists whose name can be spotted around town on various buildings and interiors, were sporting hardhats emblazoned with "The Broad." When asked if this was the first time their name was not on a building but on a hardhat, Edythe laughed. "Oh no," she said, "we have a whole collection of these at home."