When you're director of the Los Angeles County Museum
of Art, talking money from billionaires is part of the job description.
But now LACMA Director Michael Govan faces a tougher task: hailing Eli
Broad's generosity and opening LACMA's new Broad Museum of Contemporary
Art while Broad tells the world how he decided not to give the museum
his art collection.
"Eli has never changed his story with LACMA,"
Govan said on the afternoon after Broad's decision hit the headlines
last week. "He has never promised something he hasn't delivered. . . .
He's made a huge investment in this place."
Indeed, Broad footed the $56-million cost of putting up the new building
and put up about $10 million more to buy two artworks for the inside.
But LACMA's connection with Broad is "an evolving relationship," Govan
On Feb. 16, LACMA will unveil the building, nicknamed BCAM, with its
interiors dominated by 220 pieces borrowed from Broad and his Broad Art
Through years of plan-laying and fundraising for LACMA's expansion,
Broad, a LACMA trustee, said that those and about 1,800 other artworks
in his control would probably go to one or more museums eventually. But
last week he declared a new strategy: Have his foundation keep all the
artworks but lend them frequently.
LACMA officials say their agreement with Broad says the museum can
borrow and display up to 200 works at a time from Broad and the Broad
Art Foundation during Eli Broad's lifetime.
"I do imagine that many of these works will live at LACMA," said Govan. "Will they be owned by LACMA? I'm not sure it matters."
Govan and LACMA contemporary art curator Lynn Zelevansky maintain that
Broad's decision was no surprise to them, but it was to the rest of the
art world, which has seen LACMA left in the lurch by would-be donors
including Norton Simon (who started his own museum in 1975) and Armand
Hammer (who started his own museum in 1990).
Honestly, Govan was asked, who wouldn't rather have ownership than a long-term loan?
"It's just not an easy question with a collection this large," the
director insisted, noting the cost of storing and caring for the works,
many of which are very large, as their roles in art history grow and
shrink. Ultimately, Govan said, "you want the masterpiece on view, for
the public, at LACMA."
In the larger picture, "the museum can't lose," said Govan. "We've not risked anything."
He even found a "silver lining" to Broad's decision to hold on to his
art: This "should make it easier" to woo other collectors, who may have
felt that LACMA's new space was Broad's exclusive playground, Govan
said. "The working assumption out there was that this was just for the
Still, Govan's duties in getting BCAM open now include facing pointed
questions over what Broad is giving and getting.By the time Govan
arrived at LACMA in early 2006 -- in large part because of Broad's
support -- plans for BCAM were well underway. Broad had already pledged
$50 million for the new building and $10 million for art to go inside,
and he selected architect Renzo Piano. (Although the building cost grew
by $6 million, LACMA officials note, Broad has promised to pay the
Govan noted that the unorthodox decision to call Broad's building a
"museum" within a museum was made by predecessor Andrea Rich.
Would Govan have made that decision?
"I don't know. I've gone back and forth on it," the director said.
The most important part of BCAM's opening, Govan said, is that Los
Angeles is about to have 58,000 square feet of contemporary art
exhibition space that it didn't have before, thanks to Broad. (The
museum is also unveiling a new $25-million entrance pavilion bankrolled
by energy company BP.)
Broad, 74, amassed his fortune in the housing and financial-services
industries and has been a philanthropic force nationwide for more than
two decades, channeling money to cultural, education and scientific
causes. In business and philanthropy, he has been known as a deal maker
who makes the most of his leverage.
In describing his move last week, he said that one option he considered
was "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."
Pieces borrowed from Broad and his Broad Art Foundation will dominate
the new space for the next year, Govan said, but after that, LACMA is
free to display whatever it wants to -- not only works from Broad but
also special exhibitions such as a planned 2009 show on German art
during the Cold War, which is likely to rely heavily on artworks
borrowed from institutions worldwide.
Govan envisions that one-third of BCAM's space will be devoted to items
that will largely stay put, another one-third to exhibitions changing
every six to 12 months and another one-third to temporary exhibitions
lasting roughly three months.
What, apart from massive tax deductions, does Broad get out of this? His
name is up on signs all over. His art-capital campaign gets a big
boost. His collection's market value could rise -- but Broad has said
the works will not go back on the market, and Govan says he has Broad's
"100% solemn oath" on that subject.
BCAM also gives Broad a chance to show his works in a building by the
architect of his choosing, without having to buy real estate. And for
the next year that Broad's pieces are on view at LACMA, the museum will
be paying to insure them, at a time when art insurance rates have been
soaring. LACMA officials say their art-insurance costs (which fluctuate
depending on what's on loan) were $1.04 million in 2006 and $307,000 in
2007 -- and will be $1.4 million in 2008.
"The future will be different," said Govan, noting that LACMA and Broad have until February 2009 to make new insurance plans.
Govan estimates that the expansion will add about $3 million yearly to
LACMA's operating expenses, a rise of about 7%. To make ends meet, Govan
said, he's counting on increases in donations, membership and
attendance, which was 616,491 for the year that ended June 30.
On Jan. 1, LACMA raised its admission fees for non-member adults from
$10 to $12. And it's boosting parking prices from $5 to $7 for
self-parking and $10 for valet parking, and adding 525 self-parking and
750 valet spaces to the current 220 spaces at Wilshire Boulevard and
Govan wouldn't say how many more visitors he's hoping to attract. But he
did note that he has his eyes on the numbers at the Museum of
Contemporary and Art in Los Angeles (316,000 visitors in 2007) and
Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (360,000 visitors). . "I'd like to
see LACMA double its attendance over the next few years," he said.
One element that seemed to separate BCAM from LACMA at first was the $10
million Broad offered for acquisitions and the new board that was to
oversee those acquisitions. But that first $10 million has now been
spent, Govan said, on a Richard Serra sculpture and less costly works by
Alighiero Boetti and Chris Burden (a joint acquisition with MOCA), all
of which Govan said he was eager to get. Govan said he considers that
acquisition board dissolved, with future acquisitions to be decided the
same way that they are for other LACMA departments.
Now, apart from BCAM's title, said LACMA President Melody Kanschat,
"nothing makes it different" from the museum's other buildings "except
it's newer and it doesn't leak."
"And," added Govan, "it's got great light."
By Christopher Reynolds
For The Los Angeles Times