LOS ANGELES - Eli Broad is a man with a reputation for getting things done. After building two Fortune 500 companies from the ground up, he transferred his drive to philanthropy about fifteen years ago; his achievements have since included almost single-handedly creating a cultural centre for downtown Los Angeles, including its monumental anchor – the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. That project was dead in the water for years until Broad raised $225 million, and twisted not a few arms in the process.
Headstrong, some have called him. Control freak is a term others have used.
Sitting in his sleek Century City office, with its commanding views of Los Angeles, Broad listens to repetitions of those descriptions and doesn’t blink.
“Um-hum,” he replies, unfazed. “I’m determined to do the things I set out to do. When you are building something, you get the best building when you have a strong client working with the architect. I’ve seen too many buildings that don’t work.”
ELI AND EDYTHE BROAD IN THE NEWLY COMPLETED MUSEUM. ELIZABETH DANIELS PHOTOGRAPHY.
Such a fate, needless to say, is not likely to befall The Broad, a new contemporary art museum opening to the public on 20 September. It will be home to the nearly 2,000 works in the Broad Art Foundation, as well as the personal collection that Mr Broad has formed with his wife of 60 years, Edythe.
Located just next door to Disney Hall, The Broad is a 120,000-square-foot stunner designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, built at a cost of $140 million, all paid for by Broad, who is also providing the institution with a $200 million endowment.
Over the past several decades, many art museums had hoped they might one day receive the holdings of the Broad Art Foundation, a private entity begun in 1984 that acts primarily as a lender of its works to museums all over the world.
THE INTERIOR OF THE BROAD, SHOWING THE “VAULT AND VEIL” DESIGN. PHOTOGRAPH BY IWAN BAAN.
About five years ago, Mr and Mrs Broad decided to build their own museum. After securing the property downtown, they invited six leading international architects to submit proposals.
“It was a very challenging site,” says Broad. “How do you build something right next to Disney Hall that will not clash – and still be a great, iconic building?”
Programmatically, the commission was tough, too: in addition to gallery spaces, Broad wanted the building to contain a storage facility for the foundation’s entire collection. “
Liz came up with the best idea,” he continues, referring to Diller Scofidio + Renfro partner Elizabeth Diller. Her concept has come to be known as “the vault and the veil.”
The “vault” is a 36-million-pound concrete mass, which, in spite of its heaviness, appears to be floating at the centre of the building and contains 21,000 square feet of art storage space.
The “veil” is a porous, honeycomb-like exterior structure that wraps around the building and provides filtered natural daylight to the galleries.
ELIZABETH DILLER AND ELI BROAD TAKING A HARD HAT TOUR OF THE BROAD DURING CONSTRUCTION. PHOTOGRAPH BY RYAN MILLER.
As has been widely reported, that veil was particularly complicated to build. “It was easy to draw on paper but not to engineer,” Broad says. “We had 25 different engineers working on it. There were a lot of seismic issues, and issues with the contractor. It delayed us about fifteen months.”
“I’ve had a very unique and productive relationship with Eli,” says Diller. “He has been intimately involved in every aspect of the museum’s evolution because it’s a deeply personal project for him. He has defended our design from early development through realisation.”
Now that the building is done, the public will soon get the opportunity to see the Broad collection essentially for the first time. Although the works have been widely loaned, the collection has never been seen as a whole. “It has only been seen episodically,” says Joanne Heyler, director of The Broad. “With the inauguration, the public will finally be able to understand the depth and breadth of the collection.”
“We’ve got a collection of art from the last 50 years that is second to none – and I am talking about any museum,” says Broad, with characteristic directness.
ELI BROAD WITH ROY LICHTENSTEIN AND ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG. COURTESY OF THE ELI AND EDYTHE L. BROAD COLLECTION.
The son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, Broad was born in the Bronx and raised in Detroit. After graduating from Michigan State University, he became a certified public accountant at age 20. A few years later, he started Kaufman and Broad (now KB Home), the phenomenally successful builder of suburban housing. Later, he created SunAmerica, a giant retirement-saving company. Since selling it for $18 billion in 1999, he has dedicated all of his time to philanthropy.
“But I’m working harder now than when I ran a Fortune 500 company,” says Broad, who turned 82 in June.
His interest in art dates to the early 1970s, when Edythe bought a Toulouse-Lautrec poster. “My wife was the first collector. I found it a relief from spending time with bankers and other business people.”
After buying a van Gogh drawing and works by Miró and Matisse, Broad changed his focus. “Then we moved into contemporary. I like to collect the art of our time.” Broad has since become known for collecting artists in-depth.
“We won’t buy a work without understanding the entire career of an artist. We do a lot of research. To me, collecting is not just about buying objects; it’s a learning experience.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT’S UNTITLED, 1981 IS PART OF THE BROAD’S INAUGURAL INSTALLATION. © 2015 ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK / ADAGP, PARIS.
“In the 1980s, we began buying Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Cindy Sherman – today we have the largest collection in the world of her work. Then we met Jeff Koons. We’ve got about 35 of his pieces.
“We have substantial works by Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly and Jasper Johns – including a major Flag painting. But we were late with Andy [Warhol]. I became really interested in him only after I saw the retrospective Kynaston McShine organised at MoMA in 1989. Then I got it.”
Broad enjoys socialising with artists – and still finds them a relief from bankers and business people. “I enjoy their intellect, the way they view the world. I have learned a lot about what is happening in society from artists, particularly from Koons. His creativity is remarkable, the way he keeps moving forward.”
Broad was also personally fond of Basquiat, even after he caught him smoking pot in his powder room. “Jean-Michel was kind of wild. He was uncontrollable. The only one who could control him was Andy. Then when Andy died . . . .”
Today, Broad’s philanthropic interests extend far beyond art. The Broad Foundations, with assets of $2.7 billion, work for the public good in education, science and medicine.
THE BROAD’S INAUGURAL INSTALLATION WILL ALSO INCLUDE JEFF KOONS’S
RABBIT, 1986. © 2015 JEFF KOONS.
He takes an entrepreneurial approach to all his giving. “We want to make a difference, so we don’t just give money to institutions. We spend time identifying effective leaders, then we invest with them. The Broad Institute is now the world’s leading centre for genomic research. Not a day goes by when something we are doing in medicine isn’t reported.”
Now that the heavy lifting for the new museum is over, Mr Broad is focusing on opening events and festivities. “We will start with an international press conference, then the next night hold a black-tie dinner for 1,000, with many people from overseas. The following day we’ll have the civic dedication and then another dinner for 1,000. I will be feeding a lot of people.
“It’s been a long five years,” he says in conclusion. “But we got it done.”
He always does.
James Reginato is writer-at-large of Vanity Fair.