The Broad: LA’s Latest Art Museum

Posted on October 23, 2015, 9:00 am
9 mins

Located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, The Broad is the latest museum to enter the culture capitol—and it is certainly taking the city by storm. The best part: It’s free. Built by philanthropists and collectors Eli and Edythe Broad, The Broad is a contemporary art museum that represents five decades of collecting—more than 2,000 artworks and counting. About one piece is added per week. The museum states, “With in-depth representations of influential contemporary artists…plus an ever-growing representation of younger artists, The Broad enriches, provokes, inspires, and fosters appreciation of contemporary art.”

Since it opened on September 20, 2015, The Broad has been sweeping social media (check out their Instagram, which has over 40,000 followers!). Art lovers of all ages line up outside the door every day–sometimes the queue even curls around the block. The museum allows attendees to reserve tickets in advance to ensure a speedy entry (still no charge), but those tickets tend to book solid months in advance. However, when I visited The Broad–with no advance ticket–the line moved quickly, and when we emerged after perusing the galleries for a few hours, it was considerably shorter. Therefore, an afternoon trip may be advised.

Upon entering the museum, try to resist the temptation to head straight to the galleries. Get in line to make a reservation for Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room—The Soul of Millions of Light Years Away, as it is not to be missed. Kusama’s piece features a mirror-lined chamber filled with a seemingly endless LED light display. Because only one visitor can be accommodated at a time, and the installation takes about 45 seconds per person, getting those tickets really is a priority.

The galleries are organized chronologically. The first floor galleries feature works from the turn of the millennium to the present. I must admit that most of the works on the first floor were new to me, and I was amazed by the brilliant breadth of styles and mediums in this inaugural snippet of The Broad’s collection.

I was struck by three specific works on this level: Albert Oehlen’s “Ziggy Stargast, Luc Tuyman’s “Speech,” and Jenny Saville’s “In the Realm of the Mothers II.” In “Ziggy Stargast,” Oehlen exaggerates the traditions and expectations of abstraction, utilizing bright swathes of pink, blue, yellow and brown. It is as if the artist has magnified the works of Abstract Expressionist artists—identifying and then breaking the rules of this specific style.

Luc Tuyman’s “Speech” is an eloquent painting of a lonely elocutionist. A beam of light cuts the canvas to the left of center, highlighting the speaker in the foreground and effusing the parquet flooring. The figure is both solemn with nervous energy and confident, due to the position in the center of the canvas. Tuyman’s unique approach of blurring the edges of each element brings reality into the painting.

“In the Realm of the Mothers II” by Jenny Saville is charcoal on canvas, capturing female and male figures in various positions. The medium provides for a unique aesthetic, revealing the process and technique and appearing to have been worked and reworked many times. The human body is one of Saville’s main focuses, and in this it is reckoned many ways, altogether celebrated.

Jeff Koons’ brightly colored, bulbous “Tulips” is the centerpiece of the foyer on the third floor, whose gallery is devoted to major artists who came to prominence from the 1950s to 1990s. The Broad perfectly captures the tone of this period of art, inspired by graffiti and punk. Jean-Michel Basquiat is heavily represented, much more so than at any other museum I have visited. The Broad holds thirteen pieces by Basquiat, though only four are currently on display, alongside works by Keith Haring and John Ahearn. The Broad is also home to the largest collection of Cindy Sherman’s work—124 photographs. Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (Your body is a battleground)” hangs beside a beautiful display of Sherman’s work, providing a deeper understanding of these two artist’s position in art history—and history, in general. If you are a fan of either Sherman or Kruger (or both), this is the place to visit.

The quantity of Koons’ work is truly remarkable. “Tulips” is only one of the 34 of his works held by The Broad, ranging in medium from painting to sculpture. The gallery that houses Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Blue)” and “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” is the backdrop of about a million selfies and Instagrams. Also prominently featured is German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, as “The Broad collection has the deepest holdings [of the artist’s work] on the West Coast.” With 573 pieces in the total collection, only a fraction of the works are on display. No matter which works are being displayed during your visit, it is interesting to see Beuys’ pieces in a gallery format, as much of Beuys’ work was composed of conceptual performances. The more traditional setting seems to help viewers understand the artist’s process and unique approach to art making in general. With a collection as extensive as The Broad’s, I personally can’t wait to see what the next exhibition holds.

Visitors are obviously attracted to The Broad to get a peek at its extensive collection, but the building itself is its own draw. Designed by the architecture firm Diller Scofidio and Renfro, in collaboration with Gentler, the building is one of the most unique in the city (and in good company with its neighbors, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and MOCA). The exterior, described as the “veil,” is made from 2,500 fiberglass reinforced concrete panels and 650 tons of steel. The distinct rhombus pattern created by these panels resembles a beehive, or honeycomb, shifted on its axis. The openings in the structure act as skylights, especially in the third floor galleries where natural light is filtered in. The interior of the structure, known as the “vault,” is quite remarkable as well. The 105-foot escalator that transports visitors from the first floor to the third, where the majority of the art is located, makes one feel as though he or she is burrowing into the structure—a cave of venetian plaster.

The Broad’s collection is clearly fabulous, especially as it represents emerging and established artists. The sheer quantity and breadth of work on display and in storage on the grounds of the museum is a feat in itself. My one hesitation with the museum is, surprisingly enough, its popular appeal. The artists and pieces presented, at least in the inaugural installation, all seem to be curated for the social media world—that is, designed to be “Instagrammable.” It is fantastic that The Broad can introduce visitors to art, and perhaps make them excited about it in a way they weren’t before. However, it is worth acknowledging that art is not merely a commodity, and should not be used solely to get more followers.

Claire Reiner is a writer, artist and recent graduate from the University of Washington’s School of Art with a major in Art History. She is interested in recent art movements and subcultures (1950s, 60s, 70s) and how they have shaped present perceptions and practices of art. She grew up in Southern California and moved to Seattle in 2010. She is quite influenced by the unique geography of both places and enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest. Reiner covers visual art exhibits in Seattle and seeks to contribute to a profound and positive artistic community, as well as encourage people to come out and experience art moments for themselves. Reiner is also the Executive Assistant for VanguardSeattle and handles any press related needs.