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An Art Donor Opts to Hold On to His Collection

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

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 its walls.

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 Rauschenberg.

"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 Broad collection.

"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 museum.

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

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