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Eli Broad says patience is not his strong point

The Los Angeles-based collector has been busy buying art while his museum is delayed

Eli Broad takes in the view of his new museum, with LA’s mayor Eric Garcetti. Photo: Ryan Miller/Invision/AP

Earlier this year, the opening date of the new contemporary art museum in downtown Los Angeles founded by Eli Broad and his wife Edythe was postponed until 2015 because of construction delays. [Since this article appeared in our June issue, the museum has sued the German fabricator Seele for $19.8m for allegedly failing to deliver the components of the building's "veil" facade on schedule.] But the collector has been far from idle, using the extra time to make more art acquisitions, launch the museum’s public programming and generally hone his vision for the museum.

“It’s been full speed ahead,” the collector says of his plans for the museum, known as the Broad. “Patience is not one of my great virtues, and it’s no secret that this is taking longer than I’d like, but we’re getting there. We’re going to have one of the great architectural attractions of the world.”

He explains that the fabrication of the steel armature for the so-called “veil” or skin wrapping around the Diller Scofidio + Renfro building was a “complicated” custom job. But everything is back on track, Broad says, with the final building costs estimated at $140m.

“At this point everything has been fabricated, and it’s only a matter of putting it all together,” says his museum director Joanne Heyler in a separate conversation. Heyler is busy developing the first round of exhibitions. She isn’t planning on announcing these shows until they release an opening date (“next summer is my hope,” Broad says), but she notes that opening exhibitions will all be drawn from the permanent collection.

The Broad collection has grown substantially under Heyler’s direction. “We move faster than most museums,” she says. “We don’t have a committee, as Eli is fond of saying, pointing to himself, Edythe and me.”

Most notably, the museum collection is evolving to include works that are larger and more accessible, now that institutional display is the goal. “We want people to experience art in a different way than just looking at pictures and sculptures,” Broad says.

One standout acquisition is Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room, the installation that drew huge crowds at David Zwirner gallery in New York last autumn and requires its own room. Other recent purchases include Ragnar Kjartansson’s expansive video The ­Visitors, 2012, Julie Mehretu’s epic 24ft-wide canvas Beloved (Cairo), 2013, dealing with the Arab Spring and the architecture of Tahir Square, and Goshka Macuga’s photo-tapestry Death of Marxism, Women of All Lands Unite, 2013.

The fact that three of these artists are women is not lost on Heyler. “We have been making a number of acquisitions of works by women artists for the collection—there are 56% more women since 1995.” When asked if this shift was a response to the vocal criticism of the collection’s white/male bias raised during the opening weeks of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (the Renzo Piano-designed building that Broad funded at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art before leaving that ­museum’s board), Heyler says: “It certainly caught our attention, but it wasn’t the first time that we thought about adding more women artists to the collection.”

Broad himself sounds more dismissive when asked the same question. “No, we’re not responding to criticism,” he says. “It’s not intentional or unintentional. We bought Julie Mehretu, and we were able to get a great work. We don’t have a formula that we have to buy so many women artists.”

Less is more

The museum is also taking an unorthodox approach in its hiring. Compared to most art museums with collections of its size, the staffing is lean. The current employee count is 13, with plans to grow the staff to “ultimately about 25,” Heyler says.

It’s a given that Broad, whose net worth is estimated at $6.9bn by Forbes magazine, does not need a development team. He also says he can do without a stand-alone education department or highly specialised curatorial departments. “We’re not going to hire someone just for education—we want someone who can do more than that,” Broad says. “And we have great photography but we aren’t going to have a photography department per se.” He says it’s still an open question if the museum will hire a chief curator to work with Heyler or make do with guest curators.

What is clear is that the Broad’s public programmes are high priority. The museum has already hired Ed Patuto, who previously ran a Brooklyn performing arts space, as its director of audience engagement. And while the Broad museum (and plaza, which is designed to have a space for events) is under construction, Patuto has already begun organising public talks at other venues in the city.

The programme, which recently featured John Waters in conversation with Jeff Koons, and has a talk between Eric Fischl and Steve Martin lined up for June, is a point of pride. “Normally what we’ve seen at museums with art lectures is that they’re lucky to have 200 people,” Broad says, noting that the Waters-Koons event drew a crowd of 1,900.

It is called the “Un-private collection series” and this gets to another basic premise of the museum—that it is an institution devoted to the public good. This also influenced the recent decision to forego an admission charge and to pursue partnerships with neighbouring institutions downtown.

Broad says that he is talking not just with Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where he is a founding trustee, but also with performing arts groups like the LA Opera and Los Angeles Philharmonic. (Broad was instrumental in building Disney Hall, home to the LA Phil, and its leader Deborah Borda sits on the Broad museum’s board of advisers.) Though still in the early stages, the groups are discussing co-ordinating schedules as well as creating more substantial collaborations.

So how far out does a strategist like Broad project his own museum’s activities? “As far as exhibitions, we’ve only planned them out for the next three years. But we have the resources financially to allow the mission to continue,” he says.

A press release last year listed the museum’s endowment as $200m, but Broad suggests it will be higher: “I’d rather not mention a figure except to say it’s several hundred million dollars. It will be larger than any museum in Los Angeles except for the Getty.”

And then the billionaire famous for his competitive streak can’t resist mentioning those other museums by name. “It will have a larger endowment than Lacma [$127.5m] or MoCA [$107m] for example. Unlike other museums that have been built, we want to make sure that ten years down the road, it is not short of funds.”

Collecting by numbers

An accountant by training, Eli Broad often describes his collecting in terms of numbers. Here are some key figures that reveal the breadth and depth of the Broad collection. Note that it includes works in his art foundation as well as pieces that the Broads still live with, which they say will ultimately go to the foundation.

Total works in the Broad Art Foundation: 1,480

Total works in personal possession of Eli and Edythe Broad: 470

Loans of art made since 1984, when the foundation began: 8,359

Loans made in the past two years: 328

Works bought in the past two years: 90

Multiples by Joseph Beuys in collection: 572

Photographs by Cindy Sherman: 124

Sculptures by Jeff Koons: 24

Paintings by Mark Bradford: 8

Artists in the collection: 200

Women artists in the collection: 35

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