Exhibition Inquisition

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

Chapter 1 (Part 2): LACMA’s BCAM – A Museum Within a Museum

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Even though Eli is not involved with the museum any longer, his name is still on that building. We should have never called it a museum. How can LACMA have a museum? LACMA is the museum.”
Lynda Resnick, LACMA Trustee[i]

In February 2008, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The Renzo Piano-designed BCAM is not an autonomous museum; it is one of several buildings on LACMA’s museum campus (the largest American art museum west of Chicago).

The original LACMA was not exactly popular. Ed Ruscha’s 1968 vision of the museum.

The original LACMA was not exactly popular. Ed Ruscha’s 1968 vision of the museum.

LACMA was founded in 1961, when it seceded from the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art in Exposition Park.  The new art museum opened in 1965 with three buildings designed by William Pereira: the Bing, Ahmanson and Hammer buildings.  In 1986, the Art of the Americas Building (then the Anderson Building) opened, and was followed in 1988, with the Pavilion for Japanese Art.  The museum continued to grow when LACMA purchased the neighboring May Company department store building in 1994. (LACMA is currently collaborating with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to bring a museum to the vacant building.[ii])  In 2001, plans for a tabula rasa campus designed by Rem Koolhaas were scrapped due to its ambitious scale (all existing buildings would have been raised) and lack of public support (a proposed bill would have provided public funds for the project, but was not passed by voters[iii]).  Then in 2004, the board approved a multi-year capital campaign called Transformation.[iv]

Michael Govan, Wallis Annenberg Director and CEO of LACMA, inherited Transformation when he took LACMA’s helm in 2006 (little more than a year before BCAM’s inauguration). Exciting, high profile, high-cost building projects are Govan’s specialty. Before coming to LACMA, Govan had been the director of the Dia Art Foundation where he oversaw the renovation of an old Nabisco factory in the Hudson River Valley, into Dia Beacon—a gargantuan facility capable of housing many large-scale, contemporary art installations. Before Dia, Govan worked under Richard Armstrong at the Guggenheim Foundation and aided in the realization of the Guggenheim Bilbao.   Govan had the resume required to lead LACMA during Transformation.  Eli Broad was on the search committee that lured Govan to LACMA.[v]

Before Govan’s arrival, Broad had agreed to finance the design and constructing of BCAM and to contribute an additional $10 million for a contemporary art acquisitions fund. BCAM was part of Phase 1 of Transformation.  Funding for Phase 1 also came from other trustees and public support of the campaign.  Corporate sponsor British Petroleum contributed funds for an outdoor entrance pavilion.  The City of Los Angeles subsidized $10 million towards the demolition of an existing parking structure and for the permanent closure of Ogden Drive, which aggressively bisected the museum campus.

His twitter handle is @UnreasonableEli.

His twitter handle is @UnreasonableEli.

The final cost of BCAM was $56 million dollars, but there was a caveat.  In LACMA’s 2009-2010 financial statements, accountants wrote off a $5.5 million financial loss.[vi]  The museum explained the loss represented a remaining, unpaid amount Broad owed the museum for BCAM, while tactfully emphasizing that Broad had paid $50 million for the building.  The museum did not plan on recouping the difference as LACMA’s relationship with Broad had since soured.  The more devastating loss, and one not easy to write off, was Broad’s unanticipated decision to not donate his collection to LACMA.

Showing donors’ art is common practice, but is hardly regulated and unique in each case—sometimes a formal contract for gifts is negotiated; other times a museum operates with “only a handshake.”[vii]  Some museums like MOMA and the National Gallery have strict policies against displaying non-promised work (although this did not seem to stop MOMA from displaying a version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which is privately owned by Leon Black[viii]).  Since the recession however, shows drawn from single collectors have become more frequent.[ix]  This is motivated by costs (these shows are often sponsored by the collectors), and these shows are used tactfully to encourage gifts of art (and money).

BCAM was a handshake agreement for Broad’s collections of more than 2,000 works of contemporary art by more than 200 international artists.  The Broad collections filled BCAM’s three floors for its inauguration, but this was not the first time Broad’s art had been exhibited at LACMA.  In 2001, LACMA organized Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collections.    The show drew criticism from critic Christopher Knight not only for its shortage of LA artists, but also for showing so much un-promised work.[x] Knight’s condemnation of the 2001 show now seems a premonition.

Donors’ names often grace galleries or wings of museums; few donors get an entire (museum) building.  It was not ridiculous for the museum, or the public, to assume Broad would donate his collections to LACMA because of BCAM.  Should the museum have considered a formal contract instead of a handshake? —Probably, yes.  Could a formal, binding contract have been negotiated with Broad? – Probably not.

In January 2008, little more than a month before BCAM opened, the New York Times smugly broke the story that Broad would not donate his collections to the museum.[xi]  LACMA having just completed the construction of a new facility to display contemporary art, suddenly found itself without the contemporary art collections the museum had assumed would be theirs, the same collections the curators and preparators were busy installing in BCAM.

BCAM’s opening festivities, exclusive member previews, fundraising events and galas, meant to be celebratory, felt diminished and reviews were mixed.  While BCAM was praised as effective in its ability to display art (more than 80 percent of the building is gallery space), some bemoaned how un-inspired the beige cube was.  Renzo Piano admitted BCAM was, “probably the quickest scheme in my life, both in conception and in building” (in the BCAM catalogue no less).[xii] Many critics blamed Broad for the unimaginative design; he had after all handpicked the architect with little input,[xiii] and had micro-managed the entire design process, even down to choosing the facing material for the building[xiv]—museum-standard travertine from a quarry outside of Rome.  A fitting material for a monument.

Travertine cube by Renzo Piano, and banners by John Baldessari.

Travertine cube by Renzo Piano, and banners by John Baldessari.

Despite the mixed architectural reviews, BCAM contributed to dramatically increased attendance, significantly expanded gallery space, and initiated a larger curatorial program for contemporary art.  Meanwhile, Broad was explaining his change of heart to the press; he even managed to corral Govan into a painful double interview with the Los Angeles Times.[xv]  Broad’s reasoning for reneging on the donation of his collections (at least the reason given in interviews) was he worried the collections would not be exhibited enough if donated—concerned the works would languish unseen in storage.  Instead he wished to maintain his collections as a lending library.

The Broad Art Foundation has operated as a lending library since 1984; it has organized over 8,000 loans to over 485 institutions worldwide.[xvi] Its mission: “to advance public appreciation for contemporary art, by keep[ing] these works in the public domain.”  To further vindicate his decision, Broad recounted a favorite old story about Glenn Lowry, director of MOMA (where Broad is also a life trustee).  According to Broad, Lowry had discouraged him from donating the collection to MOMA because Lowry could not promise a great portion of such a gift would be on view at anytime.[xvii]  Broad preached both the important lending activities of the Foundation, and his desire for the collection to be on maximum view as reasons for his decision to jilt LACMA.  The Foundation would continue to oversee loans to institutions, with LACMA having first dibs on works to display in BCAM.[xviii]

This situation has been likened to a divorce settlement, “with Eli getting custody of the kids (the art) and Michael [Govan] keeping the house (BCAM),”[xix] with LACMA getting visitation rights to the kids/art.  Like a bad divorce, LACMA continues to be effected by its ex, mostly its mission.  Even without donating his art collections and because of his decision not to, Broad has a prolonged influence on the institution.

LACMA is legally required to display contemporary art in BCAM and Broad has no qualms about enforcing its usage.  He put LACMA on blast for the 2010 Renoir in the 20th Century exhibition installed in BCAM; it hardly qualified as contemporary art.[xx]  In another article, Broad revealed other, specific strings of his BCAM donation: “[There’s] a contract where two-thirds of the building has to be for the Broad collection…we’ve been loose with them, [but] they know what their obligation is.”[xxi] The ground floor was easy to fill with two leviathan Richard Serra, corten steel works Sequence (2006) and Band (2006)Sequence was removed from BCAM in June 2011 to make room for another bulky work, Chris Burden’s Metropolis II,[xxii] lent not by Broad but by billionaire private collector Nicolas Berggruen.[xxiii] Half of BCAM’s top floor remained, with few alterations, the same inaugural installation of Baldessari, Koons and Warhol until summer 2012.  The other half of the floor has hosted a rotating series of installations drawn mostly from the Broad collections.  This leaves the second floor for LACMA’s own devices.

LACMA does have a collection of contemporary art, which predates Broad; it has collected in this area since its founding and had a contemporary curatorial department prior to BCAM’s construction.  Since the opening of BCAM however, there has been an adjustment of focus in exhibition programming at LACMA.  Since February 2008 (when BCAM opened), the museum has presented 104 exhibitions;[xxiv] more than two thirds of these (71 by my count) have been of contemporary art.  This does not include the BCAM “installations” drawn from the Broad collections.  Broad’s contribution of BCAM has become significantly more than a building considering its effect on LACMA’s exhibition program and therefore also the museum’s mission.

To be clear and fair this new emphasis on contemporary art is not just the result of BCAM.  Govan favors and has a background in contemporary art and often utilizes it as a means of interpreting LACMA’s encyclopedic collections. (See LACMA’s Jorge Pardo-designed Pre-Columbian galleries,[xxv] Franz West-designed galleries for Art of the Pacific,[xxvi] and the exhibition of the Fra Angelico-inspired collection by Rodarte installed in LACMA’s Renaissance galleries.)[xxvii]  In 2009, LACMA also brought on a new, high-profile curator, Franklin Sirmans, to oversee its contemporary art department.[xxviii]  Sirmans organized the 2011 exhibition Human Nature: Contemporary Art from the Collection, which highlighted the past 50 years of contemporary art acquisitions at LACMA.

Recent acquisitions by Mark Hegen, Craig Kauffman, James Turrell & Ai Weiwei.

Recent acquisitions by Mark Hegen, Craig Kauffman, James Turrell & Ai Weiwei.

The museum has also actively strengthened and enlarged its holdings in contemporary art since the opening of BCAM.  LACMA does not have a general acquisitions budget, and acquires most of its art through gifts and donations.  Despite this, LACMA has announced many gifts of contemporary art since BCAM opened.  Acquisitions include work by Theaster Gates,[xxix] Mark Hagen,[xxx] Craig Kauffman,[xxxi] Edward Kienholz,[xxxii] Barbara Kruger,[xxxiii]  Julio Le Parc,[xxxiv] Glen Ligon,[xxxv] Christian Marclay,[xxxvi] Bruce Nauman,[xxxvii] Shirin Neshat,[xxxviii] Robert Rauschenberg,[xxxix] James Turrell,[xl] and Ai Weiwei.[xli]

While LACMA did not acquire the Broad collections, the museum did gain the impetus and motivation to strengthen its contemporary art mission. This lingering, Broad-caused effect on contemporary art is not a negative one.  In this situation Broad’s influence was not sinister, but this situation is one illustration of the influence of Broad’s venture philanthropy on an arts organization. Across town, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has also had its mission indelibly affected by Broad’s philanthropy.

UPDATE:

Models of two new museums for Wilshire Blvd.

Models of two new museums for Wilshire Blvd.

Since the opening of BCAM, LACMA has also completed Phase 2 of Transformation.  This included the opening of the 45,000 square foot Resnick Pavilion, an expansion of Robert Irwin’s palm garden, construction of a new restaurant and bar, reinstallation of several galleries, and the titanic endeavor of installing Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass.  The museum has also strengthened its ties with the local film community: this year the museum will celebrate its third annual Art+Film Gala honoring both artists and filmmakers, and LACMA is also moving ahead with plans for The Academy Museum (designed by Renzo Piano) in the LACMA-owned May Co. Building.  Finally and most significantly, LACMA recently announced plans for a new capital campaign that will completely change the museum.  Michael Govan has proposed plans (with an accompanying exhibition) for the demolition of the majority of LACMA’s campus and be replaced by a single building by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.  Any final decision on this new building is years away.


[i] Bob Colacello, “The City of Warring Angels,” Vanity Fair, August 2010.
[ii] David Ng, “LACMA partners with Motion Picture Academy on new movie museum,” Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2011.
[iii] Jeff Softley, “Koolhaas Doesn’t Have Everybody’s Vote,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2001.
[iv] LACMA, “Transformation Campaign,” http://www.lacma.org/about/transformation/phase-1.
[v] Colacello.
[vi] Mike Boehm, “Michael Govan’s LACMA contract renewal revealed,” Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2010.
[vii] James Rondeau, Informal talk with AHIS 5387, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, December 9, 2011.
[viii] Erik Hayden, “Buyer of Edvard Munch’s $120 Million “Scream,” Revealed,” Newsfeed, July 12, 2012, newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/12/buyer-of-edvard-munchs-120-million-scream-revealed.
[ix] Judith H. Dobrzynski, “A Growing Use of Private Art in Public Spaces,” New York Times, March 16, 2011.
[x] Christopher Knight, “A Statement That’s Broad but Not Bold,” Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2001.
[xi] Edward Wyatt, “An Art Donor Opts to Hold On to His Collection,” New York Times, January 8, 2008.
[xii] “Under the Surface: Michael Govan in Conversation with Eli Broad and Renzo Piano,” BCAM Catalogue, 2008, p. 67.
[xiii] Ibid, 63-73.
[xiv] Ibid, 68.
[xv] Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, “Lending and LACMA: Eli Broad and Michael Govan discuss their relationship,” Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2008.
[xvi] Broad Art Foundation, “Mission,” broadartfoundation.org/mission.html?sid=11.
[xvii] Colacello.
[xviii] Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, “Lending and LACMA.”
[xix] Colacello.
[xx] Ibid.
[xxi] Mike Boehm, “Eli broad fires back at LACMA’s rival plan to rescue MOCA,” Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2008.
[xxii] Alex Capriotti, “Serra’s Sequence is Moving Out,” Unframed, June 28, 2011, lacma.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/serras-sequence-is-moving-out.
[xxiii] Gareth Harris, “Berggruen builds collection for Los Angeles,” The Art Newspaper, January 5, 2012.
[xxiv] LACMA, “Exhibitions,” http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibitions/current. (As of June 2013)
[xxv] LACMA, “Art of the Ancient Americas,” http://www.lacma.org/art/collection/art-ancient-americas.
[xxvi] LACMA, “Art of the Pacific,” http://www.lacma.org/art/collection/art-pacific.
[xxvii] LACMA, “Rodarte: Fra Angelico Collection,” http://www.lacma.org/art/installation/rodarte-fra-angelico-collection.
[xxviii] Suzanne Muchnic, “LACMA has a new chief curator of contemporary art: Frank Sirmans,” Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2009.
[xxix] Jenny Miyasaki, “New Acquisition: Contemporary Friends Group Acquires Nine Works,” Unframed, January 10, 2013, lacma.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/new-acquisition-contemporary-friends-group-acquires-nine-works.
[xxx] Rita Gonzalez and Christine Y. Kim, “New Acquisitions for Art Here and Now,” Unframed, July 31, 2012, lacma.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/new-acquisitions-for-art-here-and-now.
[xxxi] Carol S. Eliel, “New Acquisition: Craig Kauffmann, Untitled (1969),” Unframed, April 20, 2011, lacma.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/new-acquisition-craig-kauffman-untitled-1969.
[xxxii] Stephanie Barron, “The Illegal operation,” Unframed, February 4, 2009, lacma.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/the-illegal-operation.
[xxxiii] Miranda Carroll, New Acquisition: Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Shafted),” Unframed, June 23, 2011, lacma.wordpress.com/2011/06/23/new-acquisition-barbara-kruger’s-untitled-shafted.
[xxxiv] Scott Tennent, “2013 Collectors Committee Acquires Nine Works of Art,” Unframed, April 15, 2013, lacma.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/2013-collectors-committee-acquires-nine-works-for-lacma.
[xxxv] Austen Bailey, “African American Art at LACMA,” Unframed, February 28, 2011, lacma.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/african-american-art-at-lacma.
[xxxvi] Christine Kim, “New Acquisition: Christian Marclay, the Clock,” Unframed, April 19, 2011, lacma.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/new-acquisition-christian-marclay-the-clock.
[xxxvii] Scott Tennent, “This Weekend at LACMA,” Unframed, November 18, 2011, lacma.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/this-weekend-at-lacma-bruce-nauman-artwork-on-view-free-lectures-and-concerts-and-more.
[xxxviii] Linda Komaroff, “New Acquisition: Shirin Neshat, Speechless,” Unframed, April 24, 2012, lacma.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/new-acquisition-shirin-neshat-speechless.
[xxxix] Britt Salvesen, “New Acquisition: Robert Rauschenberg Currents,” Unframed, April 24, 2012, http://lacma.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/new-acquisition-robert-rauschenberg-currents.
[xl] Allison Agsten, “Recent Acquisition: Turrel’s Afrum (White),” Unframed, October 27, 2008, lacma.wordpress.com/2008/10/27/recent-acquisition-turrells-afrum-white.
[xli] Franklin Sirmans, “New Acquisition: Ai Weiwei, Untitled (Divine Proportion),” Unframed, April 19, 2011, lacma.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/new-acquisition-ai-weiwei-untitled-divine-proportion.

3 Responses

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  1. […] just a few months of BCAM’s opening at LACMA, rumors began to circulate that Eli Broad had been less than forthcoming about his true […]

  2. […] work, it was an announcement of a gift, rather than a non-gift (compare the announcement that Broad wouldn’t be donating his collection to LACMA on the occasion of BCAM’s opening)—and a gift in a long history of Resnick gifts to LACMA. […]

  3. […] art will eventually (after 100 years?) be permanently donated to the museum. Similarly Eli Broad provided funds to LACMA for the BCAM building, with LACMA assuming the building assured the donation of the Broad collections. Broad didn’t […]


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