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Wednesday 01.09.08

« Interview with MK Guth | Main | Portland openings in Seattle and New York »

More on Broad and the Portland connection

Eli Broad's big news in the New York Times yesterday still has everybody talking. Is forming an independent art lending institution a form of Teddy Roosevelt style cultural trust-busting (museum as monopolizer?) or does it short circuit the opportunities and dialog of the works joining a larger collection? For example, curators build museum collections around acquisitions, not available loans. Also, loans aren't likely to become museum favorites that people can visit for 10+ year stretches of time (my favorite part of museum going). Still LACMA's new Broad building will have a strong presence of Broad Art Foundation loans.

Interestingly enough, Portland has a stake in this story as Broad has been very active with the Portland Art Museum and by not giving the collection wholesale to LACMA it leaves the door open for further engagement with Portland's art starved but rapidly developing cultural ecosystem. Portland has been the beneficiary of the Broad Foundation quite regularly including the Damien Hirst and Camouflage shows at the Portland Art Museum in 2007. Sure we have some good collectors in the Northwest but no collection North of California on the West Coast can compete with Broad's, it really helps as a resource.

Camouflage at the Portland Art Museum (L to R) works by Philip Taaffe, Andy Warhol, Agnes Martin and Damien Hirst, [all from Broad Art Foundation except the Agnes Martins] (photo by Dan McLaughlin)

By creating a lending institution and not mothballing the collection in typical museum bequest fashion Broad has done something very 21st century, he's "decentralized access" to his collection. It's more agile, certainly wasn't LACMA's favorite scenario and is in line with Broad's own pursuit of unconventional thinking in business and art. LACMA gets the door prize of preferential status for loans and 50 million for the new Broad contemporary wing set to open this spring.

I don't think this lending foundation plan will become a trend amongst other major collectors; it's more idiosyncratic of Broad who is an activist collector/developer with catalytic aims. Huntington and Carnegie remind me more of Broad than Saatchi, Ovitz or Philip Johnson as collectors possibly because he is a real-estate developer (with an estimated worth of 7 billion). To understand the decision just look at his day job, developers often leverage change as opposed to carving out mini-kingdoms in already existing elite real-estate (museums). Developers are game changers, and that's what Broad has done.

The lending art foundation plan also mirrors LA's own "multiple centers" cultural topography and this may have prompted Broad to find a decentralized solution to serve a decentralized city. As a philanthropist his name seems to show up on every exciting new architectural project in LA, from Gehry's Disney Concert Hall to Mayne's Caltrans building.

There were indications Broad was leaning towards creating a lending institution since Miami time so I'm certain LACMA saw this coming. Still it's definitely a disappointment for their collection building, no way to gloss that over.

For Portlander's it's a boon, we have a highly educated population that loves art and a hoard of artists but a museum that is still building its collection and top end collector base (we have a few). Broad's loans (and the depth thereof) allow smaller and growing cities like Portland access to his collection and we've already made good use of this resource.

Time will tell how this turns out but I can say that in my dealings with the staff at the Broad Foundation have been more helpful, responsive and less bureaucratically hobbled than most of the museums in LA (surprisingly New York museums do way better in this). Broad's decision is building an interesting legacy and it's a shame there aren't more billionaires today with similar cultural engagement as the massive museum expansions of the past 15 years have lead to a decentralized art world and not enough truly civic minded collectors.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on January 09, 2008 at 14:30 | Comments (2)


I know that this post a few days old already, but I can't shake the feeling that something has fundamentally changed for museums.

First, I think that Broad addition by Renzo Piano at LACMA will cost more than the $50 million donated by Broad Foundation. Did LACMA agree to donate the rest of the money for the addition in return for the collection?

If so, LACMA not only does not get the work, but they have to come up with the cash to finish the addition. From the outside, that does not seem like a great plan even if the Broad's are on the LACMA board.

The Broad Foundation has been very generous about letting works in its collection to travel to the Portland Art Museum. We have shown work by Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, and Damien Hirst that would have been very difficult (read expensive) for the museum to have acquired by itself. Even if the work is there for only a few months at a time, it is even good for repeat museum attendance because you have to see the work while it is there.

Although it is common for museums to borrow work for a travelling or special exhibition, the situation for the permanent collection is more complex. I think that a museum's mission is to display and store the best art so that it would be available for future generations. A secondary mission would be its role in educating the public in the role/ value of the things that it has in the collections. That is why museums are so popular because they benefit everyone.

With the drastic increase in the price of the very best art, museums are finding it increasingly difficult to buy and display the best art that is available. This cuts the museums in two ways: it is difficult to acquire the work in the first place and second it is difficult for a museum to fulfill its role in determining what is worth saving for a future generations.

I know that these ideas seem a little Victorian and out dated but they are the foundations on which museums are built.

With the Broad Foundation recent decision with regards to its collection and LACAMA, I believe that those foundations have shifted.

The first problem is that the vetting of the art work would not happen by the local museum but by the Broad Foundation. This is offset by the ability to have access to work that you would not normally be able to afford but it is hard to deny the expertise is placed with the Broad Foundation and not the local museum. It might be a fair trade but it is a big difference. It is also why it would affect local museums more than MoMA or the MET.

Just as the library system went through and identity crisis a few years ago when the libraries saw themselves as a repository of books rather as a clearing house of information of all kinds books but also the internet. I wonder if museums are ina similar transformation.

Museums are object oriented. That is why go to the museums, to see the real thing. Unfortunately, the real thing is expensive to buy, expensive to display (insurance, climate control), and expensive to store not to mention sometimes large and unwieldy. If local museums can not afford to buy the very best art work, is there still a way for the museum to share its expertise with the local community?

I believe that there is. Just a librarians, are seen as valuable their expertise for being able to find specific information in any medium, rather than just books, museums must see themselves as a storehouse of information and expertise as well rather than just the keeper of valuable objects. Of course, it was easier for the librarians because the value was in the information rather than in the books themselves, for the most part.

I think that way forward is to find different ways of make the expertise of curators and museum directors more available to the local community. One example would be to have the museum have a show on OPB. It sounds ridiculous but think about it, it is way that the expertise can be distributed into the local community without relying on the object. Some shows could be for a more general audience and other shows for specific, for local artists. A similar model could also be developed on the internet to accomplish the same task.

Another example might be finding a way to link museum curators with schools through videos or the internet as well as trips to the physical museum.

Maybe there are new and interesting ways for that knowledge to be made accessible to local artists as well. We all book on artists and museum catalogs, maybe there can be storehouse of information on the internet or in a lecture series that could be based on ideas or trends that curators see taking place in the local arts community. Maybe it could even take the form of a book tailored to local artists.

These are some very quick ideas and I am sure that there are ideas that go much deeper, but they are ways that the museums can be valued for their knowledge and expertise in a time when their original purpose is becoming increasingly untenable. Museums, must present their value to the community in ways that move beyond the physical artifact.

Just as libraries still have books, there will always be objects in a museum, but the objects should just be one part of the museum's presentation to the public.

In the future, more and more collectors will go the route of the Broad Foundation. Most might not find any loyalty to any one institution. For others it might be simply that they believe their collection is more important than any one museum, local or otherwise. The result will be that the local museums will have more access to better work but the at the expense of dissolving its expertise and knowledge in the eyes of the local community. Museums have to find ways to make themselves more relevant for what they know rather than what they have on display.

As always, this is just the beginning.

Posted by: Arcy [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 13, 2008 10:16 AM

I believe Broad's decision is somewhat isolated. The scale, depth and sheer quality of what he has, plus the ability to endow it have put him in a league of his own for over a decade. He's also an activist who likes to take matters into his own hands. In comparison the Rubells and Steven Cohen dont have the same combination of elements.

Broad has litterally been terraforming Los Angeles for decades and this proabbly wont be his most radical legacy. There is no contemporary to compare him to these days, he does it his way.

Even Saatchi seems more interested in what is current, Broad seems to be thinking legacy all of the time.

One wonders what Seattle would be like if Paul Allen were more like Broad? Maybe that's a case of "be careful what you wish for?"

Also, it's true Portland's Robert Pamplin is a little like Broad but he is not as radical or progressive and doesnt have the same interest in contemporary art and ideas.

I have this amusing little fantasy about reviving that old "battle of the network stars" show only with billionares... and something tells me Broad would win. Bloomberg? please.... Portland's Phil Knight would have to beat Bill Gates in the physical challenges.

On a more serious note, the real issue is how these people engage with the challenges of the times. Culture is never the most obvious avenue, but it is the most enduring place for philanthropy to put some its resources. Just look at Pope Julius II. I wonder if Broad will undertake that role with someone like Richard Serra??

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 13, 2008 01:03 PM

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