Critics of the boutique-museum trend may see the Eli Broad Family Foundation's new study and research center as part of the problem. The four-story center in Santa Monica, which unveiled a first-rate collection Thursday night to a glittering array of invited guests, has the look of a private collector's personal museum, richly stocked with expensive contemporary art that public institutions covet but can't afford to buy.
But Eli Broad believes that the new facility is part of the solution to museums' financial woes and a pointed example of how a collector can demonstrate social responsibility.
In the first place, he said, this center is not a museum. It's a lending library. "We never wanted to have a building with our name on it that would compete with museums," he said. "We loan works to museums and make them available to scholars, along with an archive on the collection."
Asked what he planned to do when the public banged on his door, Broad said that he didn't have adequate parking for a public facility and that building a museum was never his plan. The public can't see the displays in the new center, but they can see the art over time in other institutions. Since the foundation's beginning in 1984, Broad has loaned works to about 100 museums and university art galleries. About a third of the foundation's collection is currently on loan to public institutions, he said.
Broad, chief operating officer and a founder of Kaufman and Broad (a company specializing in financial services and housing) and founding chairman of the board of trustees of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art, declined to say how long he would run the center but indicated that the project is not intended to be a permanent monument to his family.
Neither does the center represent yet another major collector's abandonment of museums that depend upon gifts of art from cultured donors. Broad said he still plans to give his collection to one or more museums. Or, better yet--and here's the big idea behind the new center--to a consortium of museums that has yet to be established.
As Broad sees it, prices of contemporary art have risen so astronomically that museums can make few acquisitions, and they should be looking at other ways of building collections.
"They ought to form consortiums" to pool their meager resources, he said, "or encourage people like us to collect and loan art to them."
The alternative is that more and more important works of art will "go into hiding" as less public-spirited collectors buy them and remove them from public view, he said.
Temporarily unconcerned with such serious matters, a happy crowd of 300 guests milled around in the spacious facility at the Thursday-evening opening and toasted Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe.
Among the guests who inaugurated the latest major addition to Los Angeles' booming art community were Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs; attorney Daniel N. Belin, president of the board of trustees of the County Museum of Art, and his wife, Daisy; John Walsh, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum; Weston Naef, director of the Getty's photography department, and numerous artists, critics, curators and collectors.
The 22,600-square-foot center is housed in a former telephone switching station at 3355 Barnard Way. Broad said the building is the only structure remaining from the Ocean Park urban renewal project and that he had admired it for years before he bought it.
Los Angeles architect Frederick Fisher has adapted the 1927 building to accommodate exhibition space on all four floors and in the basement, as well as an art library (for materials specifically related to works in the collection), administrative offices and storage space. A sculpture garden eventually will be installed on the rooftop, which offers glorious views of the ocean and the city.
The foundation's collection currently consists of about 300 works by 100 artists who have attained prominence in the last 25 years, many of them not yet widely known to the public. Broad's personal collection includes works by more solidly established figures such as Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein and Ellsworth Kelly.
Broad's penchant for collecting in depth, rather than one or two works by a vast array of artists, is obvious in the current exhibition. Five Stellas, four Lichtensteins and two Kellys, from Broad's personal collection, are installed on the first floor. Other areas of the building display about one-fourth of the bounteous foundation collection.
The basement is filled with large color self-portraits of Cindy Sherman, who photographs herself in a variety of guises. Upper floors contain entire rooms of often enormous works by Robert Longo, Terry Winters, Imi Knoebel, Mayer Vaisman, Julian Schnabel and Leon Golub.