Q&A:  Curator Joanne Heyler sketches out Broad Museum’s 2015 opening

Joanne Heyler, the director of the Broad museum, opening in fall 2015, in front of the museum in downtown Los Angeles.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

By late next year, the stretch of Grand Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets in downtown L.A. will be a corridor of contemporary art. The $140-million Broad Museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and showcasing Eli and Edythe Broad’s private art collection, will finally open in fall directly across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art. Broad Foundation director and chief curator Joanne Heyler chatted with us about the museum’s inaugural exhibition and other programming plans.

In terms of construction, where do things stand and do you have an opening date yet?

We’re opening fall 2015; we’ll announce a more firm and precise date early next year — which in museum time is almost tomorrow. In terms of construction, we’re in the homestretch. The scaffolding is almost all gone. I have to say, living and breathing with these renderings and plans for almost five years now, I am absolutely thrilled to see it finally revealed as a whole exterior.

What will the opening exhibition be like?

For the inaugural exhibition, we’re devoting the entire building to the Broad collection. The installation will be more or less chronological, covering the many periods that the Broads have collected. So the installation will begin with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg and their works that date to the ‘50s in some cases as well as Cy Twombly. Moving into Pop, there’ll be works by Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, that come from the prime era of pop in the early ‘60s and throughout the ‘60s. Which is an area that the Broads have collected in tremendous depth. Then we’ll move through the ‘70s and the ‘80s. The [latter] is the period when the Broad Art Foundation was established. There’s a deep representation of artists who emerged then, like Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, painters like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat; so there’ll be work by them and, of course, Jeff Koons.


How will the collection show differently, if at all, in its new home than it has in the past?

The collection has been seen publicly in relatively fragmented ways. There have been exhibitions that focus on certain artists in the collection that are held in great depth, like Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Lichtenstein, Warhol. But what we’ve never been able to do is show how this collection, together, tells a particular story about postwar through today in terms of contemporary art. It’s a collection that ... has its heart in pop art. The concepts that pop art addressed about mass media and pop culture, that’s very much where the collection emerges from.

Do you, like MOCA’s chief curator, Helen Molesworth, work with a model of the museum’s galleries in preparing the exhibition of the permanent collection?

Yes, I’m working with what you would call a curator’s dollhouse of my own. We had a big decision to make about how to arrange the walls, especially of the third-floor galleries, because we have complete flexibility up there, 35,000 square feet and no columns, and there’s nothing dictating where the walls will go. Which is wonderful and liberating but also gives you so many options. We’re about 80% there right now, in terms of knowing what we’re going to hang.

Is there a single piece you’re particularly excited to unveil?

I’m really excited about a work by an Icelandic artist, Ragnar Kjartansson, that we purchased over a year ago that I think is the most important piece he’s done in his career to date — it’s called “The Visitors.” It’s an immersive, eight-screen video piece that will occupy a very large gallery on the first floor when we open. It addresses, in a very romantic sense, the passage of time, memory, friendship, collaboration.

Is the museum actively adding to the collection in anticipation of its debut?

We have been adding artists to the collection. We acquired a key piece by Jordan Wolfson, an animatronic figure we’ll probably install not for the inaugural exhibition but a few months later. And we’re always visiting artist’s studios; we’ll continue to acquire things. But we’ve got a very full story that we’re telling with the inaugural installation already. That’s our focus right now.

What events and traveling exhibitions are planned for the museum’s first year?

We were really pleased to tap into an appetite among L.A. audiences for these focused discussions with artists in the collection with the Unprivate Collection — over 2,000 people for the John Waters and Jeff Koons talk, over 1,200 for the Murakami talk with Pico Iyer. So we definitely want to continue that. Plus outdoor screenings and programming inside the galleries, perhaps performative, that connect with the artworks there. In terms of special exhibitions, we’ll have three a year, but we won’t launch that program until 2016.

Can you tell us more about the plaza and the role you see it playing in downtown L.A.?

The plaza should open within the first quarter of next year; we’re just putting on finishing touches right now, like lighting. It has a very large lawn, and we’re going to have outdoor film screenings in the warmer months. One of my top priorities with the plaza was to add some green to Grand Avenue. That particular section on Bunker Hill has amazing architecture with Disney Hall and MOCA, and now there’s Grand Park just a few blocks away, but we wanted a place where people would feel welcome and tempted to picnic, something that felt not like a passage or hardscape corridor to traverse but a place where you might want to sit down and enjoy a meal.

Everyone’s intrigued about the oculus.

Yes, it’s one of the most exciting reveals. Liz Diller, who is the architect, and I have thrown around a lot of monikers. We call it formally the oculus, we call it the dimple, we call it the fold. It’s one of the most beautiful gestures on the exterior of the building.

How do you envision the Broad Museum working with MOCA across the street?

Between what will be happening in our building and what MOCA can make available to the public, if you put those two things together, I’m not so sure you can find any place, anywhere, that would have as comprehensive a look at the art of the postwar era to today. Part of the streetscape improvements we made right outside our door, in addition to the green along Grand Avenue, was a signaled crosswalk that takes you from our plaza to the one that lies between MOCA and the Colburn. So it’ll be really easy to have a connective visit to both institutions — I think that’s fantastic for L.A.