Exhibition Inquisition

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

Chapter 2 (Part 3): Venture Philanthropy & Other Styles of Giving

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“Andrew Carnegie said, ‘He who dies with wealth dies in shame.’ And someone once said, ‘He who gives while he lives also knows where it goes.’”[i]Eli Broad

Eli Broad’s power is tolerated because it remains remarkably unchallenged. This seemingly monopoly of philanthropic power led Christopher Knight to compare Broad to another infamous, Los Angeles art patron:

[Norton] Simon’s flirtations with giving [his] collection away (to at least seven institutions); distrust of traditional museum management; engineering of a bailout of an artistically adventuresome but financially faltering institution (the old Pasadena Museum for Simon, MOCA for Broad); later deciding to open his own museum, and more…[ii]

Another similarity to Broad: Before Norton Simon’s takeover of the Pasadena Art Museum, Simon had intended to establish his collection as a lending organization. Taking control of the Pasadena Art Museum proved irresistible to Simon, and today the Norton Simon Museum rarely loans works.  I seriously doubt unfounded rumors that Broad has some kind of evil master plan to takeover or somehow combine his collections with MOCA.

Walter De Maria's "The 2000 Sculpture" installed in the Resnick Pavilion.

Walter De Maria’s “The 2000 Sculpture” installed in the Resnick Pavilion.

Broad can also be measured to his contemporaries. Los Angeles is not actually a one-philanthropist town.  “Pomegranate QueenLynda Resnick is an easy comparison.  Like Broad, Resnick is a long-time donor and trustee of LACMA.  Like Broad, she and her husband provided funds ($54 million) for a Renzo-Piano-designed building at LACMA.  The Lynda and Stuart Resnick Pavilion was part of Phase 2 of LACMA’s Transformation and sits directly north of BCAM.  When the pavilion opened in October of 2010, one of three inaugural shows was gleaned from the Resnick’s private collection.

On the occasion of the opening of the Resnick Pavilion, it was announced that the Resnicks had donated one of the works in the show to LACMA (Jean Restout’s Venus Ordering Arms from Vulcan for Aeneas, 1717.)[iii]  While it was only one 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. Like Broad, Lynda Resnick has her opinions and she has a few choice ones of Broad; some of them Shakespearian:

It’s kind of the reverse of that line in Julius Caesar, ‘The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.’ With Eli it’s the opposite. His good will live after him. And whatever negativity went with it—who cares? For posterity, he’s done great things.[iv]

This is the widely accepted rationale for the resistance-less acceptance of Broad’s venture philanthropy[v] to the arts in Los Angeles.  The “evils” are outweighed by the perceived “good” benefits that come of it.  Resnick’s opinion of Broad and his philanthropy to the arts is probably more well-informed than most.

Wallis Annenberg attends a gala at LACMA.

Wallis Annenberg attends a gala at LACMA.

Another donor comparison is Wallis Annenberg who (after Broad) has her name on more buildings around Los Angeles than any other person. Like Broad, she also conducts her philanthropy through a foundation, the Annenberg Foundation (founded by her father Walter).  Annenberg also gives to a wide variety of institutions and causes.  The Annenberg Foundation recently gave $50 million to the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California for a new building.[vi]  The Foundation purchased and renovated an old members-only beach house, renamed the Annenberg Community Beach House, for $27 million and then turned around and gifted it to the City of Santa Monica and made it open to the public.  Annenberg also wants to establish a pet center in Palos Verdes.  Her interests are varied, and her philanthropic motivation is largely tied to her familial identity, which makes her more traditional in her giving than most Los Angeles philanthropists.  She is the chair of the Foundation, and governs it with three of her children.  She encourages them to develop their philanthropic causes, and sees herself as cultivating the next generation of the Annenberg Foundation.[vii]  (In contrast, Broad has two children who he has said are uninterested in his causes.[viii])

Annenberg’s arts and culture philanthropy include the founding and construction of the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, as well as funding for the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.  Annenberg also sits on the boards of MOCA and LACMA.  At LACMA not only is there a Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography; the museum is also led by its Wallis Annenberg Director, Michael Govan—a position she endowed upon his arrival.  In 2008, Govan convinced Annenberg to contribute funds for LACMA to acquire the Vernon Collection of Photography.  In all these projects, Annenberg takes a back seat; she would never call herself a ‘venture philanthropist.’  Her strategy of giving is to identify strong and creative leaders and support their visions.  “Nothing can get done without these people. And that’s what I’m supporting: their vision.”[ix]  Govan is a good example of this; Annenberg donated $2 million to his pet project, the contentious Jeff Koons’s Train. [x]   Eli Broad would never support someone else’s vision, he prefers his own.

This issue of a one-philanthropist town is not entirely Broad’s fault.  He’s not responsible for others lack of philanthropy.  It’s not his fault that others wont step up, but perhaps others don’t step up because they expect Broad to.  When something goes wrong in Los Angeles, as it did with MOCA, everyone expects Broad to ride in on a white horse and save the damsel regardless of the attached strings and his overbearing opinion. A humorous example of the perceived/real dependency Los Angeles has on Broad came during his 60 Minutes interview with Morley Safer.[xi]  While Broad is touring Safer around Grand Avenue, explaining where the Broad will rise, out of a passing car someone yells, “Hey Eli, buy the Dodgers!” This was referring to the ownership dispute over the local baseball team, which resulted from owners Frank and Jamie McCourt’s divorce, which has left Dodgers fans extremely concerned.

Eli Broad made his first fortune building single-family homes, and his second with an investment firm.  It is no wonder then that Broad is fond of building and even fonder of micro-managing projects involving the investment of millions of dollars.  He is concerned with building the cultural infrastructure for the future, but often employs urban planning methodology now widely regarded as outdated and ineffective (more on this topic in following chapters).  Is what Broad has self-identified really what is best for the future?  Is there enough input from multiple informed sources to ensure these projects are in fact what the public will need in the future?

[i] 60 Minutes, “How Eli Broad gives his billions away,” CBS News, April 24, 2011.
[ii] Christopher Knight, “Eli Broad, today’s Norton Simon,” Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2011.
[iii] Christopher Knight, “Gift of Rococo painting to LACMA goes back to the future,” Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2010.
[iv] Bob Colacello, “The City of Warring Angels,” Vanity Fair, August 2010.
[v] Naomi Schaeffer Riley, “‘We’re In the Venture Philanthropy Business,’” The Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2009.
[vi] Phoebe Unterman, “Plans move forward for Annenberg Building,” Daily Trojan, March 30, 2011.
[vii] Bob Colacello, “Her Own Kind of Annenberg,” Vanity Fair, October 2009
[viii] 60 Minutes.
[ix] Colacello, “Annenberg.”
[x] Ibid.
[xi] 60 Minutes.

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  1. […] Walton, the Fishers and George Lucas, has a long history with the city in which he practices his “venture philanthropy.” Broad was not born in Los Angeles, but like the Fishers in San Francisco, he has a long […]

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