Edythe and Eli Broad

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 15, No 2 (Summer 2004)

Kris Kuramitsu

The Broad Art Foundation, based in Santa Monica, California, was founded by philanthropists Edythe and Eli Broad in 1984 to encourage and strengthen a greater public appreciation of contemporary visual art. Under the leadership of director and curator Joanne Heyler, the foundation operates as an educational and lending source for the nearly 800 art works in its collection, rather than as a standard grantmaking program. These works, produced since 1975, are loaned to museums and other public art institutions around the world to enhance exhibitions of contemporary art by making work that might otherwise not be available or readily accessible to a wide public.

The collecting philosophy of the foundation is straightforward. Heyler and the Broads strategically identify and collect works by artists important to recent developments in aesthetic practice. Typically, artists are represented in depth (by five to fifteen works or more) in the foundation's collection, and illustrate key moments in the artist's oeuvre.

This collecting philosophy has generated an invaluable art historical and curatorial resource, defining a unique territory lying somewhere between a collecting museum and a private collection. The foundation makes over 200 loans a year from its collections, and scholars are also encouraged to use its archives and collections for their research. The foundation building in Santa Monica houses 20,000 square feet of gallery space, accessible to artists, arts professionals, and institutionally-affiliated groups by appointment. The exhibitions, which change annually, highlight a selection of individual artists and demonstrate the depth of collections. The current installation includes a number of works by Gregory Crewdson, Leon Golub, Keith Haring, Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, Shirin Neshat, Cindy Sherman, Philip Taaffe, Terry Winters, and Christopher Wool. There is also a whimsical permanent installation of sculpture by Tom Otterness on the roof of the building.

Moreover, the foundation acts at the cusp of the blue chip—collecting work that is recognized as important but might be hard pressed to find its way into institutional settings with the depth and scale that the Broad is able to achieve. While the collection is particularly strong in important works of the 1980s, the Broad Art Foundation continues to follow artistic developments into the twenty-first century. Among the nearly 100 artists represented in depth are Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jeff Koons, David Salle, Cindy Sherman, Robert Therrien, Charles Ray, David Salle, Lari Pittman, and Kara Walker.

Often, the work collected by the foundation is “difficult” for one reason or another—sometimes, sheer scale and complexity of conservation are obstacles for institutions. One good example is Charles Ray's “Firetruck” (1993). Created for the 1993 Whitney Biennial, the sculpture is a toy fire truck scaled to the proportions of a real fire truck. When exhibited, the piece usually requires a large space, such as in front of the exhibition space. One of the foundation's most recent acquisitions, and their first work by Damien Hirst, is entitled “Away from the Flock,” 1994, a seminal work from Hirst's provocative Natural History series, that consists of a lamb specimen suspended in formaldehyde in a glass and metal tank. By being available to curators and art institutions, the work in the collection can be made accessible internationally.

In addition to serving as a collection in the public trust, the foundation's goals are reinforced by the civic leadership of its president, Eli Broad. Last summer, Eli Broad and the Broad Art Foundation announced a $60 million gift to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The majority ($50 million) is earmarked for a new 80,000-square-foot, Renzo Piano-designed building on LACMA's campus to be called The Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA. The remaining $10 million will be earmarked for acquisitions of contemporary art. The Broad Museum will be sited in a currently-open plot of land adjacent to the LACMA West educational center and will house a combination of works from the Broad Art Foundation, the LACMA collections, and the Broads' private art collections, along with pieces acquired with the donated funds. This unorthodox philanthropic project comes after a prolonged and unsuccessful attempt by LACMA to initiate a $400 million redesign of the entire museum campus by Rem Koolhaas. Scheduled for completion in 2007, the Broad Museum is a concerted effort to fix some of the inherent problems of LACMA's campus identified during discussions of the Koolhaas plan.

Eli Broad has made a habit of spearheading complex (and sometimes controversial) cultural projects across the city and of using his clout in such efforts as helping to found the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown LA; rescuing, along with former Mayor Riordan, funds for Frank Gehry's Disney Hall; and creating the Broad Art Center at UCLA to house the university's School of the Arts and Architecture, scheduled to open in fall 2004.

With the Broad Art Foundation and Eli Broad's individual philanthropic leadership, the Broad name has become a widely-recognized cultural brand across the city of Los Angeles and in arts communities around the world. The foundation is an invaluable collecting, lending, and educational resource, one that not only supports, but cultivates and sustains current artistic practice and exhibition programs.

Kris Kuramitsu is curator and director of art programs, Peter Norton Family Foundation.