Philanthropist Eli Broad will bankroll a new contemporary art building for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, museum officials said Wednesday, as part of a many-faceted donation likely to approach $60 million, making it the largest single cash gift in the institution's history.
The plan represents a new direction for LACMA leaders, who spent most of 2002 trying to rally donors behind an ambitious proposal to raze four of the museum complex's six buildings and replace them with a single tented structure designed by celebrated Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
In a memorandum of understanding with museum leaders, Broad has laid out plans to pay for "every penny" of a new, 70,000-square-foot building, said LACMA board Chairman Wally Weisman. The new building, tentatively dubbed the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA and projected to cost roughly $50 million, would stand along Wilshire Boulevard just east of the former May Co. building now known as LACMA West.
In addition, Broad has pledged more than $10 million to a new art acquisition fund, along with a long-term loan of more than 200 contemporary works from his own considerable collection or the even larger Broad Art Foundation collection, Weisman said. Many details remain to be hammered out, museum officials said; Broad was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Though his offer does not spell out any permanent donation of artworks, sources close to the museum said, it appears to signal LACMA as the eventual destination for Broad's much-coveted collection, which focuses on late 20th century artists such as Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Eric Fischl, Anselm Kiefer, Robert Therrien and David Salle.
Broad, a trustee of the museum, had said he was willing to contribute as much as $50 million to the Koolhaas plan, whose overall cost was estimated at $300 million or more.
But when the museum couldn't find enough other major donors, LACMA President and director Andrea Rich announced in December that she would put the Koolhaas plan on hold and find a more pragmatic alternative. This, said Weisman, is it.
"It is a ... tremendously generous gift on the part of the Broads," Weisman said. "It is simply an extraordinary step forward for the museum. It would not only achieve a great addition to the campus, it will enable us to move forward more effectively with reshaping LACMA West."
As for timing, Weisman said, Broad "is someone who wants to achieve by yesterday what might take a year or so. He'll want to achieve this as effectively and expeditiously as he can." Still, Weisman said, a board vote on a proposed architect is likely to be some months away.
Under these new plans, Weisman said, the new building will carry Broad's name and focus on art since 1945. Such works now occupy about 25,000 square feet at LACMA's Robert O. Anderson building. Broad will suggest an architect for the new building, with that choice and design subject to approval by the trustees.
Weisman estimates the new structure's likely price at $49 million or more, assuming design, construction and related costs of about $700 per square foot.
Broad's gift doesn't make provisions for the added ongoing cost of operating a new building, Weisman said, but he noted that "we should see a corresponding increase in membership and attendance, and we will be embarking on capital and endowment campaigns, independent of all this."
The goal, he said, would be to raise more than $100 million from sources other than Broad. LACMA's endowment now stands at about $80 million.
Rich and Weisman will brief LACMA trustees further on the Broad gift at a meeting Wednesday, but many received word late last week as Broad was marking his 70th birthday June 6.
He celebrated with parties Saturday and Sunday at his home in Brentwood, entertaining guests from Gov. Gray Davis to L.A. Mayor James K. Hahn. Entertainment included live bands and toasts from the likes of J. Paul Getty Trust President Barry Munitz.
Wary that word of Broad's imminent gift might leak, LACMA leaders sent letters to board members on Saturday laying out Broad's intentions.
"It's the largest single commitment he's made anywhere," Munitz said. "And it's a major injection of commitment and vitality for the arts in the city, particularly at a time when the economic climate is so difficult."
Broad donations in recent years include $20 million to UCLA for the Edythe and Eli Broad Art Center and $23 million to Caltech for the Broad Center for the Biological Sciences.
The next question, Munitz added, is "will this now allow LACMA to raise additional funds for infrastructure support, curatorial additions, new exhibition strategies and conservation of contemporary work?" If Broad is successful in his usual strategy of using his own dollars as a tool to pry loose other donors' money, Munitz said, "this should be the lever for LACMA now to raise more."
Broad, whose worth has been estimated at about $5 billion, made most of his money as founder of two Fortune 500 enterprises: first a tract-home building company now known as KB Home Corp.; then SunAmerica Inc., a financial services company that was bought by insurance giant American International Group for $18 billion in 1999. Broad still holds the titles of chairman of SunAmerica and founder-chairman at KB Home.
He and wife Edythe have lived in Los Angeles and collected art since 1963.
In the late 1970s, he was among the founders of the Museum of Contemporary Art, now headquartered on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, but later locked horns with the museum's leadership and turned his philanthropic attentions elsewhere.
The Broad Art Foundation's collection, when not on loan, fills 20,000 square feet of a four-story building in Santa Monica.