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UCLA Celebrates Its New Art Center

Eli and Edythe Broad donated almost half of the $52-million cost for the teaching, work and exhibition spaces.

September 14, 2006|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

A new building that UCLA's acting chancellor dubbed a "magnificent edifice" was unveiled at the Westwood campus Wednesday morning during a ceremony that drew about 200 well-wishers, with speaking roles by philanthropist Eli Broad, state First Lady Maria Shriver and Getty Center architect Richard Meier.

The university is billing the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center, which opens to the public today, as "Los Angeles' newest cultural destination." The structure, though, is actually a $52-million adaptive reuse of the old, unlovely Dickson Art Center, and will be of use mostly to university faculty and students in the visual arts programs of the School of Arts and Architecture.

Broad, whose foundation donated $23.2 million of the cost, said "the gift combines three of our passions: education, the arts and Los Angeles." The building includes exhibition galleries for the departments of art and design/media arts and is, Broad said, another step in the city's emergence as the world's fourth cultural capital alongside Paris, New York and London.

"Some people say, 'Why support the arts with all the other human needs?' " he said. "I don't think we remember the lawyers or the accountants. But we sure remember the architects and the artists."

The Broad Center is set near a rearranged 5-acre sculpture garden that includes works by Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin and Alexander Calder. Adjacent, in the Broad Center's courtyard, is a new 14-foot-high, 42.5-ton "torqued ellipse" work by Richard Serra, perhaps the best-regarded living sculptor.

Serra, who seemed to glower in his black suit during the morning's speeches, came alive behind the lectern and spoke of the honor of placing a work on the UCLA campus. He said he hoped the piece would "empower" students to create their own boldly original work.

In contrast to William Pereira's Dickson Art Center, which was gloomy and marked by a long central corridor, the new building is light and open, and offers large studios in which students can work.

As the event broke up after a ribbon cutting, Meier & Partners architect Michael Palladino discussed how he was originally faced, seven years ago, with an old building that felt visually and structurally heavy. His solution was to bring several of the main walkways outside and to line the windows of the upper floors with wood louvers.

Despite problems with the original building's layout and facade, Palladino said, "the basic proportions and orientation were ideal," allowing him to save the original concrete frame. Palladino is the head of the L.A. office of Meier & Partners, the firm that designed the Getty Center.

Shriver called the building a "feast for the eye" and poked fun at Broad for his obsession with Los Angeles at the expense of the rest of the state.

For UCLA brass, this marks the first time the arts departments "have facilities that match the quality of our programs," in the words of arts and architecture dean Christopher Waterman.

UCLA's art program has indeed become among of the nation's most prestigious, in part because of a faculty that includes artists John Baldessari, Lari Pittman and Catherine Opie. The Broad's galleries currently are hosting a show by the department faculty and another by the design/media arts faculty.

Were he an art student contemplating universities across the land, acting Chancellor Norman Abrams concluded, "this is the place I would want to attend."

scott.timberg@latimes.com

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