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Why the Broad's inaugural exhibition misses the mark

Works by Andy Warhol are on view on the third floor as part of the inaugural installation at The Broad. The installation includes works by Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha and Cindy Sherman, among others.
Works by Andy Warhol are on view on the third floor as part of the inaugural installation at The Broad. The installation includes works by Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha and Cindy Sherman, among others.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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The Broad, in downtown Los Angeles, is set to open its doors to the public in just two days.

Drawing from the exhaustive collection of billionaires Eli and Edythe Broad, the museum’s inaugural exhibition contains artwork by major contemporary and postwar artists like Andy Warhol, John Baldessari, and Roy Lichtenstein.

(Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

But The Broad’s inaugural show isn’t exactly setting the art world on fire. Reviews from some top critics — including the Los Angeles Times’s Christopher Knight — have been mixed to negative.

One of the more vocal critics is Eric Gibson. He’s the Arts in Review Editor at the Wall Street Journal, and he joined us on The Frame to talk about the difference he sees between a museum and a personal collection, where The Broad fits in to LA's art world, and what it can do to spice up its future shows.

Interview Highlights:

When you first walked into the museum, what were you hoping to see? What did you actually find?

I was hoping to see a personal take on the period covered, which is art mainly from the 1980s to the present. Traditionally, the idea of a private collection is that it's personal — the collector is buying what they like, what they're interested in, what they feel strongly about, and it's often slightly different from what you can find in a museum. A museum goes for the historical, the chronological, they want to connect all the historical dots.

So I was expecting and hoping to see the Broads' personal take on the art of the recent past, but what I found was that, if you had blindfolded me and taken me into the building, I might easily have thought I was at the Whitney, or the Museum of Modern Art, or any institution. It was really indistinguishable from a museum collection.

Los Angeles already has a pretty good collection of large museums — there's the Getty, the LA County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, to name a few. Where do you see the Broad fitting in to LA's art world right now?

I think it's an outpost for a high concentration of a certain phase of contemporary art, and I think it will be useful for that. I mean, LACMA doesn't have room to display 2,000 works of contemporary art, so this is a very good opportunity to have that in-depth focus. But as for the material itself, it isn't anything that you couldn't see at LACMA or in any other museum.

Meaning you think The Broad should be a complement or an alternative, not a mirror of those other institutions.

Exactly. It would have been much more valuable if it had had some or all of those artists or covered the period, certainly, but in a different, much more personal way. So then you could go to LACMA and see the art of the '80s and '90s, and then you'd go to the Broad and you'd come away with a totally different take on it and go, "Ah, yes, this guy's doing something really interesting and personal here."

(Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

The Broad is free, and isn't it a good thing that people can, for free, see a collection that they'd pay $20 or $30 to see at MoMA or the Whitney?

Oh, absolutely, I think it's wonderful. I think it's exceptionally generous of The Broad Museum to allow this. But as I say, they are in a fortunate position that they can do this — I think the endowment of the museum is something like $200 million.

They didn't have to let people in for free, but they are, and I think it's wonderful that they're doing so. But I don't think it's a judgment against other institutions who can't let other people in for free.

If you could help shape the future of this museum, what would you have them do? How should they go forward with their collection?

Here's one thought: I didn't see any Realist painting or Realist sculpture in the collection. There are all kinds of artists at work now — I think there are more contemporary artists at work now than ever before, and yet what we're seeing here is a very narrow segment of them. I would suggest that they be more adventurous and look outside the mainstream. The collecting needs to range far more broadly than it has been.

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