Veil & Vault

Los Angeles's newest museum: The Broad

The-Broad_exterior_photo-by-Iwan-Baan-(1)_cmyk.jpg

The Broad, view from 2nd Street and Grand Avenue, 2015. Courtesy: The Broad, Diller Scofidio + Renfro; photograph: Iwan Baan

The Broad, view from 2nd Street and Grand Avenue, 2015. Courtesy: The Broad, Diller Scofidio + Renfro; photograph: Iwan Baan

 

Eli Broad made his first fortune selling tract homes in Phoenix and Detroit. Now Los Angeles’s most visible philanthropist, he has spent millions helping turn Grand Avenue, which crests Bunker Hill between the LA Cathedral and Grand Central Library, into a clear-cut cultural thoroughfare. The downtown district’s tenants include the Colburn Dance Academy, the LA Opera, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s main campus and Frank Gehry’s famous Disney Concert Hall, the fundraising for which Broad spearheaded. As the Grand Avenue development enters its final phase, the octogenarian patron of the arts has hired New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) to build one final monument on a corner lot adjacent to the concert hall: a contemporary art museum called, simply, The Broad.

In wry contrast to the more lyrical edifices nearby, DS+R’s building appears to be a plain, three-storey box. Its signature feature is a white fibreglass and concrete exterior punctured by hundreds of uniformly angled, recessed windows. Nicknamed ‘the Veil’, the shell of The Broad wrings as much textile-like lightness as possible from its material while remaining beefy enough to enclose, with the help of steel beams, a striking 3,250 m² column-free exhibition hall: an airy, sky-lit volume with views through all but the west interior wall. The Veil lifts at two corners to form street-level entrances onto the lobby and an additional 1,400 m² of ground-floor exhibition space (a device that recalls the firm’s frontage for the Alice Tully Hall at New York’s Lincoln Center). Visitors ascend via escalator or elevator through the undulating, opaque concrete cavern of the second floor – ‘the Vault’ – which houses conservation, storage, offices and conference rooms. All public conveyances exit at a central cluster on the main exhibition floor – in fact, the flat top of the Vault. The exhibition’s bureaucratic and technical support structure literally doubles as its pedestal.

The architects’ own branding of their plan as the Veil and the Vault makes explicit the dual nature of their client, The Broad Foundation, run by Eli and Edythe Broad. Though the Foundation lends widely – 8,000 loans in 21 years, or an average of one work per day – the collection is decidedly private. Indeed, The Broad also stores and lends the couple’s personal holdings. Both groups of artwork were formerly displayed at two main locations: the Foundation’s headquarters and galleries in coastal Santa Monica (open by appointment only) and mid-city in the Broad wing of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The LACMA Broad wing may have put its red-painted guts – vents, staircases – on the exterior (a favourite device of its architect Renzo Piano), but the mechanics of the collection remained behind closed doors in offices some 15 kilometres to the west. The Broad museum on Grand Avenue instead consolidates these functions into a single building. Yet, its bipartite construction remains a remarkably honest metaphor for the dichotomy of the Foundation’s showing/acquiring, public/private pursuits. The building’s surface resembles a biosynthetic scaffolding, a filter-like block cut to size from a ‘cultural’ tissue, which at once displays, circulates and shares while simultaneously conserving, storing and accumulating art objects.

inline_The-Broad_lobby1_photo-by-Iwan-Baan-(8)_cmyk.jpg

The Broad, view of the lobby, 2015. Courtesy: The Broad, Diller Scofidio + Renfro; photograph: Iwan Baan

The Broad, view of the lobby, 2015. Courtesy: The Broad, Diller Scofidio + Renfro; photograph: Iwan Baan

 

Many institutions do the same, yet few seem as preoccupied with their publicness as The Broad. The Foundation promoted its move with a series of free artist talks – pairing, for example, Broad favourite Jeff Koons with filmmaker John Waters – under the headline, ‘The Un-Private Collection’. The building’s permeable quality makes a similar case. Even the Vault’s obscurity features notable, albeit token, exceptions: peeks through glass at second-floor ‘active storage’ as visitors descend the exit stairs; and ‘the Oculus’, a depression in the Grand Avenue facade through which passersby glimpse the Foundation’s multi-purpose meeting room. Of course, this window offers those on the inside a slightly better, convex view of the street, Grand Park and City Hall beyond. Yet, it’s the ironic mission of The Broad’s bureaucracy to make its privacy seen. The prominence of the ‘transparent’ aspects of the building underscores, on both entering and exiting, the inherent owned character of the collection. The idea of a ‘vault’ contains notions of safekeeping and protection, but also of money and property – specifically that of the couple whose name the museum bears. Likewise, the word ‘veil’ connotes preciousness and secrecy; lifted, it presents privileged sights that might yet be retracted. If the Foundation’s main requirements are the display and storage of their large holdings, the directness of DS+R’s veil/vault scheme comes close to satire.

Broad is known as a tough negotiator prone to sometimes overbearing largesse, but he is not noted for his adventurous taste. Both his and his wife’s personal collections, as well as that of the Foundation, favour big names such as Mark Bradford, Koons and Andy Warhol. In 2010, Broad drew flak for using his heft at LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art – where he is a Life Trustee and which he bailed out with USD$30 million in 2008 – to support Jeffrey Deitch’s fraught tenure as director, before announcing he would discontinue his annual pledge and concentrate on a museum of his own. To say nothing of his unparalleled influence in the city at large (the couple have promised to give away three quarters of their wealth), Broad has donated huge sums to the Disney Concert Hall, the Opera and the Cathedral. The Broad Foundation thus bears not only an architectural but a financial relationship to its new Grand Avenue neighbours. Situated within a somewhat artificial civic infrastructure, DS+R’s building is well placed: its concrete ‘transparency’ makes its assertive claims to culture perhaps more obvious than its patrons intended. DS+R point out that The Broad ‘harvests’ light while, across the road, Gehry’s steel-clad Disney Concert Hall relentlessly reflects it. Yet, DS+R’s tactically modest design eludes the boosterist rhetoric of genius and triumph that adheres so well to Gehry’s building, instead furnishing a volumetric, dichotomous symbol of Broad’s conspicuous philanthropy.

Technical complications of the Veil aside, The Broad stands as one of DS+R’s most straightforward designs. An honest building is not necessarily a neutral one, however. For example, The Broad’s windows invoke a 2008 software project by the firm, titled Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?, in which users were asked to design a jail cell – a padded cousin of The Broad’s lattice – for penalizing equivocal offences such as ‘Civil Disobedience’ and ‘Crimes against the State’. Nor is the generosity of the luminous Broad unconditional. Through its conceptual dichotomy, DS+R’s building renders the particular contradictions of the host institution – and thereby figures the neoliberal paradoxes of philanthropy in the 21st century. Architect Elizabeth Diller is both candid and cavalier about her relationship to the patron, ribbing Broad in a 2014 interview for The Art Newspaper that the rising cost of the Veil’s segments gave him ‘indigestion’. A touch of queasiness, though, may be appropriate: DS+R’s contentious structure is an elegantly cagey solution to the legacy of one of the city’s most controversial captains.

 

Travis Diehl is a writer based in Los Angeles, USA, and is a recipient of the Creative Capital / Warhol Foundation Art Writers Grant. 

Issue 173

First published in Issue 173

September 2015

Most Read

In further news: white supremacist vandals attack Rothko Chapel; Israeli minister bans art produced in solidarity with...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
The US writer, who died last week, brought a quality of inestimable importance to the modern novel: a mind that was...
The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction
Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018