Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Introduction (Part 2): The Veil, the Vault and the Avenue

leave a comment »

“The museum’s ‘veil’ lifts at its corners, welcoming visitors in.”[i]
– Elizabeth Diller, Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, architects, The Broad

Conceptual Rendering of the “Veil and the Vault” by Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Conceptual Rendering of the “Veil and the Vault” by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

The new, $100 million museum will be called The Broad, after its founder, local philanthropist Eli Broad.  The sure-to-be-iconic building houses 50,000 square feet of exhibition and storage space for the Broad collections, and is designed by world-renowned architecture firm, Diller Scofidio + Renfro.  It will be located on Grand Avenue in downtown, and will sit directly across from both Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).  It is a testament to Broad’s generosity and also to his ability to negotiate a public-private project.

The Broad museum is part of a formal urban plan for Bunker Hill called the Grand Avenue Project.  The Project was approved by the City and State in the months just prior to the recession, and (with the exception of the museum and the new Grand Park) has since stalled.  Broad, once the chairman of the committee who devised the Grand Avenue Project, offered the City and the developers of the Project (a firm called Related) a partial remedy– he would build his museum on a parcel of land included in the Project, in an effort to make the redevelopment plan’s next phases more attractive to investors.  Broad, whose autobiography is titled “The Art of Being Unreasonable,” and whose twitter handle is @UnreasonableEli, negotiated the public-private investment of the museum construction.

Broad originally proposed a $1 a year for 99 years lease (a common lease agreement between cities and non-profits) for the city-owned land on which the museum will be built.  In return he would pay for the construction of an iconic museum building to accompany the other cultural monuments along Grand Avenue. But the deal wasn’t that simple; the construction of the museum necessitated a three-story parking garage to elevate the museum structure to street level (because of the topography of Bunker Hill). Only after L.A. County supervisor Michael Antonovich publicly opposed the $1 lease proposal,[ii]and a very private negotiation period, did Broad acquiesce to paying $7.7 million for a 99 year lease.  In exchange for the lease agreement, Broad—ever the “unreasonable” negotiator, convinced the City to use Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds for the construction of the foundational parking garage—his and the City’s rationale being that the garage would be utilized as a public amenity.  Broad would front the $30 million for the construction of the garage, and the City would repay him over the course of several years with CRA funds.  However, since this agreement was made, the CRA has been dissolved as a result of new State legislation, so the process of repayment remains to be seen.  The majority of the negotiation process of this public-private investment happened behind closed doors.   The only major concern was over Broad’s proposed $1 lease agreement, which the City Council did not ultimately approve.  Should the public’s opinion have been more addressed and represented in this process as it is in the case of AEG’s proposed Farmer’s Field?

Consider the similarities.  Both projects were initiated by private money and developers (Broad’s first career was with developer KB Homes).  Both Broad and AEG used their proven track records of successful building (LA Live for AEG and for Broad a slew of museum buildings) in securing public and government support for projects located in areas that AEG and Broad have already built in (Broad has been instrumental in funding all the major cultural buildings along Grand Avenue).  Additionally, messaging in both cases included communicating how the developers had helped the community in the past—Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa once said: “What is Los Angeles, when they write the chronicles of L.A., without Eli Broad?[iii] In both projects, the developer hand-picked the architect with no public input and in both projects the renderings have been mocked; Farmer’s Field was criticized for looking like shoulder pads, the Broad museum for looking like tripe.[iv]

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Eli Broad love a photo-op.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Eli Broad love a photo-op.

More serious similarities: Both projects are battles in the same war planners and boosters are fighting to firmly anchor Los Angeles in downtown.  This may explain why both projects received special considerations from the City and State governments to fast track their processes.  Both projects also involve public-private financing arrangements. At LA Live, the City will issue construction bonds for certain elements, which AEG will repay.  On Bunker Hill, the opposite will happen; Broad will cover certain costs and the City will repay him.  Both of these public-private projects involve the leasing of valuable public land to developers, and also make the developers responsible for the construction of new public space in exchange for these subsidies. At LA Live, the City gets a new Convention Center wing from AEG. On Grand Avenue, the City got the whole new Grand Park built with the down payment from the developers of the Grand Avenue Project.  Other “upgrades” of public benefit include, in both cases, new parking garages heralded as upgrades.  Negotiations in both of these public-private investments deals have not been transparent and opportunities for the voicing of public concerns have been limited.

The lists of public, economic benefits touted by boosters of both projects often silence the concerns: an NFL team and blue-chip art! Job creation and redevelopment! High-end hotels!  The inclusion of the anticipated “high-end” (LA Live has a Ritz Carlton, developers of Grand Avenue want a Mandarin Hotel) is also problematic when considering public benefit—it assumes that wealthy individuals’ spending trickles down and positively benefits all.

A first major difference between the projects is the cultural collateral involved in the public-private partnerships and the having of that collateral. Eli Broad already owns a renowned contemporary art collection, which he acquired over a period of 20 years (and he will provide the museum with a $200-million endowment).  AEG still has yet to lure a NFL team to Los Angeles and Philip Anschutz might need to pay for it.  Eli Broad has the art to fill the museum; AEG does not have the team to fill the stadium.   Broad is also paying for the project upfront, with the costs of the parking garage to be repaid by the City; whereas AEG will repay the City for the construction bonds.

There are of course other major differences, which will be addressed in greater detail in the following chapters on Eli Broad, his museum and the Grand Avenue Project.  I will introduce the philanthropic environment of the arts in Los Angeles and Eli Broad’s role in this context.  I focus on his history and involvement with the both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) to illustrate how Broad’s philanthropy extends beyond being a financial supporter to having a mission-changing effect on these institutions.  I will also explore Broad’s decades-long involvement in the urban planning and development of Bunker Hill and with the Grand Avenue Project. It also details how, beyond downtown, several local municipalities vied to have Broad’s museum and collection (and money).

“Venture philanthropist” Eli Broad at home with some of his cultural collateral: Jeff Koons’s Rabbit (1986)

“Venture philanthropist” Eli Broad at home with some of his cultural collateral: Jeff Koons’s “Rabbit” (1986).

Eli Broad is not unique in his motives by exploring the global trend in museum building by rich private collectors.  Broad is not alone in utilizing his collection, and the construction of a museum, for economic reasons and as triggers for real estate development.  Several American case studies (the Fishers in San Francisco, and Alice Walton with her Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas) can be used to address and compare several common issues.

Similar to some questioning whether Los Angeles really needs a football team, some question whether Los Angeles really needs another contemporary art museum.  I conducted research on the Broad collections and comparable work in the collections of LACMA, MOCA, and the Hammer Museum. This research was done to determine whether these institutions’ collecting tactics made them distinct from one another, and partially in order to determine in one way whether the Broad is distinct enough to justify its existence.

I will also explore in detail the urban planning of the Grand Avenue Project.  Redevelopment on Bunker Hill has been occurring for more than half a century so I began with considering post-war urban planning theory.  I considered theorists from every decade until now, finishing with theorists who focus on the social implications of urban planning.

Eli Broad, his museum, and their larger effects on Grand Avenue are not just a case study on urban planning.  The topic is particularly timely and critically important.  Timely because these public-private development projects are becoming more and more frequent during this period of economic recession.  Cities think (with justification or not) that the best stimulant to their troubled economies is to create active downtowns or areas full of shopping, entertainment and culture.  But few cities have the financials mean to do this alone, and so more and more frequently cities engage and partnerships with rich developers and powerful philanthropists in (sometimes misaligned) redevelopment efforts.  Public-private development projects should require the input and opinions of the public who is investing in and hopefully benefiting from them, just as much as the private investors’ opinions.

Imaginary pedestrians populate the sidewalk along Grand Avenue in front of the Broad museum

Imaginary pedestrians populate the sidewalk along Grand Avenue in front of the Broad.

A discussion of the public agency in these projects (as illustrated by the Broad museum) is what makes the issue critically important.  Though the public may not propose these projects, once public-private projects have been proposed from private sources, they become equal property of both parties.  Both public and private have a vested interest because each partner has contributed money, cultural capital or other resources.  Each partner also expects a return on their investment and has a right to communicate their needs or expectations for resulting benefit.  Most importantly, each partner in the project has something the other partner does not have and wants or needs.  Too often, the public yields to the demands of the private, not realizing that they have equal power in negotiations.  This is why negotiations that determine the arrangements of public-private projects require open platforms for public opinion, criticism, and or support.  Transparency is also required.  Too often the private benefit is opaque and the actualized public benefit ill-communicated or misunderstood.  Regardless, the public should play a critical part in determining its own investment in public-private projects.  Just as imperative is for the public to also be a part of identifying and determining what it needs or expects in terms of benefit (economic or otherwise) from public-private development projects.

[i] The Broad Art Foundation, “The Broad Art Foundation Unveils Museum Designs” Press Release, January 6, 2011, http://www.broadfoundation.org/asset/1165-110106releasemuseumdesign.pdf.
[ii] Rong-Gong Lin, “Broad museum plan for downtown L.A. gets mixed reviews,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2010.
[iii] Cara Mia  DiMassa, “Civic Center park takes shape in L.A.,” Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2009.
[iv] William Poundstone, “The Veil, the Vault, and the Hole,” LACMonFireBlog, http://blogs.artinfo.com/lacmonfire/2011/01/06/the-veil-the-vault-and-the-hole.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: