Broad won’t hand off art

Times Staff Writer

In a sharp reversal of oft-stated intentions, financier and philanthropist Eli Broad has decided to keep his collection of contemporary art instead of giving it to museums, a move likely to be interpreted as a blow to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

A leading collector of late 20th and 21st century art, Broad has amassed a 2,000-piece collection under a foundation that functions as a lending library and study center.

For years he has said he did not want to establish a private museum and ultimately would distribute the works to other institutions.

His agreement to finance the Broad Contemporary Art Museum -- a $50-million building opening in February at LACMA -- and to stock it with works from his collections and establish a $10-million acquisitions fund fueled hopes that the Wilshire Boulevard institution would be a major recipient of art gifts.

But the new development, reported Tuesday in the New York Times and confirmed in a printed statement and an interview, turns the Broad Art Foundation into a permanent repository of artworks available to museums around the world.


The reversal of Broad’s strategy might seem to put a damper on LACMA’s introduction next month of its expanded and reconfigured campus.

He said he didn’t plan to announce his decision now -- the news just leaked out in an interview -- but that the museum’s leaders and staff were aware that his plans had changed over time.

“It’s true that in the past, when asked, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said we will give the collection to one or several museums,” Broad said by telephone Tuesday morning.

“The collection was significantly smaller then. Now it’s 2,000 works and we are continuing to collect, so we started to think about our options.

“One is to build our own museum as others have done. We chose not to do that. But we were concerned that if we gave our collection to one or several museums, 90% or so would be in storage all the time.

“Our goal was to have the broadest possible public view what we have. We came up with expanding the foundation’s function to include the personal collection.

“It sort of evolved,” he said of the new plan. “Part of the evolution is, if you get asked often enough, ‘What are you going to do?’ you come up with an answer. This is our present thinking, and we think it’s the right way to go.”

Michael Govan, director of LACMA, could not be reached for comment. But Lynn Zelevansky, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, said Tuesday morning that “this isn’t a surprise for any of us” within the museum. “We knew that this was happening.”

Zelevansky characterized the new plan as “an interesting model” and said, “I think it’s OK. It allows us to take what we want and not take what we don’t want. The public isn’t going to care what the credit line says.”

A longtime advocate of shared collections for cash-strapped museums, Broad characterizes his Santa Monica-based foundation as a new paradigm and a model for other private collectors.

“Museums would all be better off if they shared the costs of insurance and storage,” he said. “We now feel that we can best serve museums by continuing to make accessible a common collection of contemporary art that is shared among many institutions. The foundation will pay for staffing, insurance, storage and conservation of the work.”

Since its inception in 1984, the Broad Art Foundation has made more than 7,000 loans to about 400 museums and galleries.

The foundation collects selected artists in depth, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Joseph Beuys, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons.

The opening exhibition at LACMA’s new building will feature about 200 works from Broad’s collections and a massive steel sculpture by Richard Serra purchased by the museum with money from the Broad acquisitions fund.

Noting that Los Angeles has been his family’s hometown since 1963, Broad, who also serves on LACMA’s board, said: “We love this city, and we’re delighted with the leadership of LACMA under Michael Govan. We believe that LACMA is a great 21st century encyclopedic museum, and as a result, LACMA is our key partner and favored institution in showing works from our collections.”

The museum was widely criticized for mounting a large exhibition of Broad’s collections in 2001 without arranging a promised gift of art.

Broad’s move revives painful memories of previous collections that have been wooed and lost by LACMA, including those of actor Edward G. Robinson, who sold his artworks in a divorce settlement; Armand Hammer and Norton Simon, who built their own museums; and real estate developer Nathan Smooke, whose heirs sold his collection at auction.

Zelevansky acknowledged that such comparisons are inevitable. Still, she said, “you have to look at this as somewhat different, because there is the foundation, and the foundation will continue to lend. And LACMA will have a special relationship with the foundation.”


Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds contributed to this report.