Eli Broad says Grand Avenue will be site of new contemporary art museum


In a move that adds another contemporary art museum to the city’s busy art scene, Eli Broad announced formally Monday that he would build his Broad Collection museum downtown and chose a blue-chip New York architecture firm to design it.

By choosing to build downtown rather than in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, Broad will oversee the first building in the stalled Grand Avenue project, investing in his personal vision for Los Angeles, one in which downtown is a “vibrant center,” as he put it, for the city’s cultural community.

And his selection of Diller Scofidio + Renfro will add another ambitious structure to a street that already displays Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Arata Isozaki’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the High School for the Performing Arts by Wolf Prix

The announcement also settles the larger question of where he and his wife Edythe’s coveted art collection — which had been the envy of museums in the city and around the country — will ultimately reside.

But Broad was clearly thinking in term of its impact on Grand Avenue’s rejuvenation. “I think we’re going to create a downtown cultural alliance,” said Broad, referring to the site’s proximity to the Music Center and MOCA. He added that he hopes the museum will jump-start the Grand Avenue Project — a costly initiative intended to revitalize the downtown neighborhood with stores, hotels, condominiums and restaurants that has been stalled by the sour economy.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro will design the approximately 120,000-square-foot museum, which will include exhibition space, offices and a parking garage on a site that is now a parking lot. The Broad Foundation said the designs would not be released until October. The price tag for the building, which is expected to break ground in October and open in late 2012, is estimated at $80 million to $100 million, which Broad will fund.

By opening his own museum, Broad is following in the footsteps of California mega-collectors like Norton Simon and J. Paul Getty. But their museums were built decades ago. Today, three of the most prominent contemporary art museums in Southern California — the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, MOCA and the Hammer Museum — compete for donors and visitors. The new museum raises many questions, not the least of which is whether L.A. has the audience base to support so many museums.

All three have benefited from Broad’s patronage at one point or another, most visibly with Broad’s financing of a Renzo Piano building in his name at LACMA, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, which opened in 2008. The philanthropist also stepped in to rescue MOCA with a $30-million pledge when that museum was on the financial brink in 2008.

The Broads are expected to contribute approximately $300 million of their own money toward the new museum. In addition to the construction costs, they will endow the Broad Art Foundation with $200 million to cover the new museum’s annual operating expenses. They will also pay $7.7 million for a 99-year lease of the public land, which is located near the corner of Grand Avenue and 2nd Street.

In choosing Diller Scofidio + Renfro as the lead architect, Broad said he considered the museum’s location, which is close to Disney Hall, designed by Gehry. “We didn’t want it to clash, but we didn’t want it to be anonymous either,” said Broad.

The other finalist in the running was the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, led by Rem Koolhaas. The Santa Monica firm Gensler will serve as the executive architect on the project.

Broad is widely recognized as one of the world’s most active high-end collectors. With approximately 2,000 works of art, his holdings range from Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein to L.A. artists working today like Ed Ruscha, Mike Kelley, Mark Bradford, Mark Grotjahn and Elliott Hundley. And he is known for collecting in depth, not just breadth.

Robin Cembalest, executive editor of ARTnews, says he’s been on the magazine’s “top 10” list of international collectors every year since it started in 1998. “Other people come and go from the top 10. But he has consistently been making substantial acquisitions of major artworks.”

The future relationship between the new museum and MOCA also remains unclear. Asked if there will be collaboration between the two institutions, Broad, who serves as a founding chairman and life trustee of MOCA, replied the he is “sure there will be.”

Broad said Monday that he decided against giving his collection to a museum because none had sufficient gallery space to display the artwork. The Broad Collection is expected to display approximately 300 works from Broad’s collection at any given time in its 50,000 square feet of gallery space.

Monday’s announcement came after the Grand Avenue Authority officially approved Broad’s proposal for the museum. It was the last hurdle that the billionaire had to clear for the project to officially begin. The five-member panel voted unanimously to approve the museum.

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who chairs the panel, said she hopes the new Broad museum will help transform Grand Avenue “to the full grandeur that we’d like to see.”

Councilwoman Jan Perry, who also sits on the panel, joked with Broad after Monday’s session, saying that “we don’t always work together well, but in this case, we did.”

Construction on the parking garage is scheduled to start in October. The museum construction is set to begin in the spring, with completion expected in late 2012. The Broad Art Foundation will relocate from Santa Monica to the new museum downtown.

During the lengthy approval process, Broad’s museum faced opposition from Shen Yun Performing Arts, a dance group that has strong ties with the Falun Gong sect. The group wanted to build a theater space and residential tower on the Grand Avenue site and claimed that officials weren’t giving them a fair hearing.

But on Monday, a representative from the group addressed the Grand Avenue Authority and effectively conceded defeat.

Joanne Heyler, the director and chief curator of Broad Art Foundation, will become the director of the new museum. The Broad Foundation said that it will continue to loan works from the collection to institutions around the world.