Eli Broad, the billionaire financier and
philanthropist whose private collection of some 2,000 works of Modern
and contemporary art is one of the most sought-after by museums
nationwide, has decided to retain permanent control of his works in an
independent foundation that makes loans to museums rather than give any
of the art away.
The decision is a striking reversal by Mr. Broad,
who as recently as a year ago said that he planned to give most of his
holdings to one or several museums.
Long assumed to be at the top of the list of potential recipients was
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which next month is to open the
$56 million Broad Contemporary Art Museum, a building designed by Renzo
Piano and financed by Mr. Broad, as the centerpiece of its redesigned
campus on Wilshire Boulevard.
Coming on the eve of the opening, the decision is a potential
embarrassment for the Los Angeles museum. It was widely criticized in
2001 for mounting a major exhibition of works from Mr. Broad's
collection without having secured a promised gift of the works, an act
that is prohibited at many prominent art institutions because it can
increase the market value of the collection.
The decision also has far-reaching implications for the way museums
interact with big donors. In recent years a dizzying rise in art prices
and an abiding institutional thirst for acquisitions have given
well-heeled donors more influence over what a museum buys and puts on
Mr. Broad has long been a dominant force on the Los Angeles art scene,
helping to found museums and serving on their boards, overseeing
fund-raising for the construction of the landmark Disney Hall, which was
designed by Frank Gehry, and spurring a drive to revitalize downtown.
Mr. Broad has been especially visible at the county museum, serving as a
vice chairman of its board, leading fund-raising campaigns and strongly
influencing the comings and goings of the museum's directors, including
the hiring in 2006 of the current one, Michael Govan.
In an interview in his foundation's office here, Mr. Broad (whose name
rhymes with road) said he did not view his decision as a vote of no
confidence in the museum. Rather, he said, it represents no less than a
new paradigm for the way museums in general collect art and interact
with one another.
"I think it's a new model that makes sense for other collections," he
said. "If it was up to me, I believe that museums ought to own works
jointly." Mr. Broad encouraged that practice last year with his purchase
of a work by the artist Chris Burden, which he then gave jointly to the
county museum and another Los Angeles institution, the Museum of
Contemporary Art, where he was a founding trustee.
His decision not to donate his holdings evolved over the last year, Mr.
Broad said, as his collection grew, and it became clear that no museum,
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art included, would commit to placing a
large percentage of the works on permanent exhibit.
The collection has roughly doubled in size in the last five years and
includes personal holdings and those of the Broad Art Foundation. Among
the best-known works are some by contemporary artists including Cindy
Sherman, Jeff Koons, Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari, as well as earlier
art-world titans like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Robert
"We don't want it to end up in storage, in either our basement or
somebody else's basement," Mr. Broad said. "So I, as the collector, am
saying, 'If you're not willing to commit to show it, why don't we just
make it available to you when you want it, as opposed to giving it to
you, and then our being unhappy that it's only up 10 percent or 20
percent of the time or not being shown at all?'"
Michael Govan, the director of Lacma, did not return phone calls seeking
comment on Monday afternoon. In a telephone interview late Monday
night, he said that he viewed Mr. Broad's decision as a positive
development because it meant that none of the art works would be sold,
an act that would limit access to them by Lacma and other museums.
Asked if he viewed Mr. Broad's decision as demonstrating a lack of
confidence in him or in the museum, Mr. Govan said: "Quite the reverse.
Since day one he's privately and publicly given me a lot of support." He
noted that even though Mr. Broad does not plan to give his works to the
museum, he did not profit from Lacma's 2001 exhibit of works from the
"And from the public perspective, I don't think most people care when
they walk in the door whether the museum owns the works or not, as long
as they don't lose them" to private sales, Mr. Govan said. "He's got
2,000 works, so there is plenty to go around."
Mr. Broad took pains to make clear that the county museum would be "the
favored institution" when it came to loans from the Broad Art
Foundation. "If it weren't going to be favored, I wouldn't have given it
$50 million to build the building," he said.
He also gave $10 million for the acquisition of works, which Mr. Broad
said had already been spent on two pieces: a Richard Serra sculpture,
"Band," and a maplike tapestry by the artist Alighiero Boetti.
This is not the first time that the county museum has missed out on the
gift of a major collection from a prominent Los Angeles patron. Both
Armand Hammer, the founder of Occidental Petroleum, and Norton Simon,
the canned-food magnate, decided to build their own museums in Los
Angeles after toying with the idea of donating their works to the county
In 2001 the museum lost out on the collection of Nathan Smooke, a former
museum trustee and industrial real-estate developer whose heirs sold
much of his collection rather than donating it.
Last month the museum said it had received a gift of 130 works by major
Modern artists, including Picasso, Giacometti and Brancusi, from the
collectors Janice and Henri Lazarof.
In reaching his decision Mr. Broad, who made his fortune as the
co-founder of Kaufman & Broad, a builder of houses, and SunAmerica, a
retirement-investment firm, said he envisioned a new economic model for
museums that have struggled to keep pace in recent years with huge
increases in auction prices for Modern and contemporary art.
"What they're doing doesn't make economic sense or any other sense,
especially with the price of work today," Mr. Broad said. "The purpose
of the foundation is to continue to build the collection, to be
responsible for the conservation of it, the storage of it, and most
importantly to give it the biggest possible audience we can."
Of course Mr. Broad also enjoys tax advantages by keeping much of his
artworks in a tax-exempt foundation that lends the work out to museums.
Joanne Heyler, the curator of the Broad Art Foundation, said that Mr.
Broad's collections included roughly 400 works in his personal holdings
and more than 1,500 works in the foundation. The foundation alone has
added more than 600 works in the last two years, she said, and last year
it lent more than 900 individual works to museums around the world.
Finding adequate space to exhibit contemporary art is a particular
problem, given that individual works are often enormous. The Broad
Contemporary Art Museum at the county museum will contain 58,000 square
feet of gallery space, nearly twice the total area of the Whitney Museum
of American Art in New York.
But roughly a third of that new space — the entire first floor — will be
taken up by just two mammoth sculptures by Richard Serra: "Band" and
"Sequence," owned by Donald Fisher, the founder of Gap Inc., who is
planning his own museum in San Francisco.
The initial exhibition at the Broad museum will include work from other
collectors as well. Among them will be some works by Jasper Johns owned
by Michael Crichton, the author and a member of the county museum's
board; works by Robert Rauschenberg from the collection of Ileana
Sonnabend, the late New York gallery owner; and other contemporary works
owned by Jane and Marc Nathanson.
By Edward Wyatt
For The New York Times