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A pledge or a promise?

Times Staff Writer

With $60 million of his fortune headed toward the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and $100 million toward a new genomic research institute in Cambridge, Mass., Southern California’s philanthropist of the moment has people wondering: Is Eli Broad sick? Is he dwelling on thoughts of legacy and the implications of the 70th birthday he just celebrated? Or is he merely looking to follow the path of such predecessors as J. Paul Getty, Norton Simon and Armand Hammer?

The answers, says Broad, are no, not much and no again.

In fact, Broad was feeling vigorous enough to visit four prospective museum architects in the course of a brief European trip this month. And his deal with the art museum is a chance to do something neither Getty nor Simon nor Hammer did.

As local philanthropy insiders note, each of those moguls dripped with wealth, built an expansive art collection in the Los Angeles area, flirted with the county museum and then -- with widely varying results -- walked away with their money and art to found their own museums. Hence, the Getty can be found in Brentwood, the Simon in Pasadena, the Hammer in Westwood.

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Meanwhile, Broad -- whose 12th-floor Wilshire Boulevard office looks down on the Hammer from across the street -- says he’s determined to put a big chunk of his money and art into a public institution. And despite wooing from out-of-town rivals, LACMA is his choice.

“Obviously, with the amount of money we’re going to spend, we could have built a museum independent of LACMA,” Broad said in a recent interview. “But I do believe in public institutions.”

“Every case is an individual case, and some collections are worthy of a museum and others are not,” said Joel Wachs, who served on the Los Angeles City Council for 30 years before becoming president of the New York-based Andy Warhol Foundation in 2001. “People have to be very careful when they create their own museums, because not many are worthy of it. Norton Simon’s was a great collection.... In my opinion, Armand Hammer’s was not.”

In any such situation, Wachs said, “the museum has to maintain its integrity. In the end, the museum is the one that has the responsibility to turn something down if accepting will compromise its core values. Donors have to understand that. And some do and some don’t.”

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Broad, whose worth is estimated at $3.8 billion to $5 billion, holds the titles of chairman at financial services company Sun- America Inc. and founder-chairman at KB Home, a residential builder. His own resume features crucial roles in several public institutions, including the Detroit public school system and Michigan State University, from which he graduated in 1954.

In a four-decade history of donations in Los Angeles, he and his wife, Edythe, have backed causes ranging from education to health to culture. He also assumed a leadership role in the late-1990s drive to raise money for the soon-to-open Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Over time, Broad has earned a reputation as a formidable presence -- he and architect Frank Gehry had a falling-out over the course of the Disney Hall campaign -- and for using his gifts as leverage to pry funds from other sources.

His latest cultural venture, personally bankrolling a $50-million LACMA building, then kicking $10 million into an acquisitions fund, is more self-contained than many of Broad’s other philanthropic pledges.

But that doesn’t make it simple or modest. Disclosed in mid-June, Broad’s plan calls for a new building to house post-1945 art and serve as an architectural link along Wilshire Boulevard between the LACMA West building and the rest of the museum complex. The new building will occupy the literal center stage. Its tentative title: Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA.

“I’m not sure what the difference in the words really is,” Broad said. “But to me, calling it the Broad Contemporary Museum at LACMA is more attractive” than calling it a “center” or a “building” and leaving the contemporary works under the same banner as the museum’s curatorial categories, such as European art, Asian art and art of the Americas.

Under his agreement with LACMA leaders, Broad will yield curatorial authority to LACMA staffers but exert a high degree of control over the new building.

In the course of becoming an institution with an $80-million endowment, an annual budget of $38.4 million and a collection of more than 100,000 pieces, LACMA has won over many donors. Yet as the stories of Getty, Simon and Hammer demonstrate, when formidable personalities and public institutions are involved, legacy-leaving is no simple enterprise.

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* Oil billionaire J. Paul Getty was never a great joiner of local institutions; for the last three decades of his life, he lived mostly in Europe. But in the 1940s and ‘50s, he donated several artworks to the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art (LACMA’s predecessor), including a prized 16th century Persian rug, known as the Ardabil carpet. (The carpet, which has been displayed on and off over the years, will return to public view at LACMA on Jan. 22.) The same year he made the Ardabil gift, however, Getty founded his own museum in a ranch home near Malibu, a move that started the Getty collection on its own institutional path.

In the early 1970s, Getty moved his collection, mostly Roman and Greek works of antiquity, to a neighboring villa. After six years of legal battles following Getty’s death in 1976, the J. Paul Getty Trust took over the estate and eventually built the Getty Center in Brentwood, which opened in 1997. The Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, closed since 1997 for upgrades, is expected to reopen in late 2005.

* Norton Simon, a wealthy industrialist who started collecting European art in 1954 (with the $16,000 purchase of a Renoir oil) and soon won a reputation for high standards, flirted with LACMA leaders for years. He sat on the museum’s board for 14 years and helped lay the groundwork for its move to the Wilshire Boulevard campus in 1965. When it opened, the galleries included 100 works on loan from Simon.

But Simon also locked horns constantly with other museum donors, especially Howard Ahmanson, chairman of Home Savings of America. Basically, writes Times staff writer Suzanne Muchnic in her 1998 Simon biography, “Odd Man In,” he “couldn’t bear to be an agreeable member of a committee.”

Simon gave up his LACMA board seat in 1971, and in 1974 made his big move: a deal to take over the management and debts of the financially troubled Pasadena Art Museum (also known as the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art). In that maneuver, Simon added his much-admired collection to the museum’s and reopened the institution under his own name in 1975. Simon died in 1993.

* Armand Hammer, longtime chairman of Occidental Petroleum, pledged his considerable collection to LACMA in the early 1970s, then backed away in the 1980s when LACMA leaders resisted Hammer’s escalating demands, including a bid to put his work under the control of a curator who would report to the Hammer Foundation.

Lamenting that LACMA’s galleries “would not allow a coherent full display of my collections,” Hammer founded his own museum on Wilshire, next to Occidental’s Westwood headquarters. But following Hammer’s death in 1990 (the month after the museum’s opening), the venture suffered funding shortages. In 1994, UCLA stepped in to take over management (thanks, in part, to behind-the-scenes brokering by university administrator Andrea L. Rich, who went on to become director and president of LACMA), and the institution is now known as the UCLA Hammer Museum.

Among others who have dallied with LACMA before turning their attentions elsewhere was actor Edward G. Robinson, who lent his collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings to the museum in 1956, then sold most of it soon afterward as part of a divorce settlement.

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TV Guide founder Walter Annenberg kept his billion-dollar Impressionist collection in Rancho Mirage and allowed LACMA and a handful of other major museums to exhibit it before deciding, in 1991, to give the collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (Annenberg softened the blow the next day by announcing a $10-million gift to LACMA, its largest to that date. He died in 2002.)

The Broad building proposal, outlined in a five-page memorandum of understanding, follows months of quiet conversation between the donor and LACMA leaders, including Rich, board chairman Walter L. Weisman and chief curator Stephanie Barron. Early on, Broad said, he considered seeking a separate curator for the works he lends. But eventually, he decided to rely on LACMA’s curatorial corps, which made the agreement simpler and sends a message of confidence in the institution.

Broad said one factor in that decision was LACMA curators’ success in organizing “Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art From the Broad Collections,” a traveling show that began in Los Angeles in 2001.

In Broad’s plans for LACMA -- which follow a failed museum effort to raise money for a $300-million destroy-and-rebuild pitch by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas -- the next step is to nominate an architect to design a building of 70,000 square feet or slightly more, subject to the approval of museum trustees. Broad said he hadn’t decided whether to stage a competition, and he declined to give names of the architects he’s met with.

Once the museum board has approved an architect and design, Broad said, he will be responsible for putting up the building, with control over the choice of builders and responsibility for cost overruns.

In addition, Broad will contribute $10 million to a contemporary art acquisition fund that will be controlled by a board dominated by Broad family members. (After his death, he said, family members will become a minority on the board.)

As for his much-coveted collections of contemporary art -- about 1,100 works when the Broad Art Foundation and the Broads’ personal holdings are combined-- Broad said he plans a blanket offering for long-term loan. “We’ll let them pick what they want,” he said, referring to LACMA’s curators. “If my wife insists on having two things stay at home, we’ll do that. But there’s no shortage of works.”


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