08/25/2010 05:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Eli Broad's New Drive-Through Museum: A Win-Win for the Collector and LA


Orange "A" marks the spot: The planned site for the Broad Collection

The widely anticipated decision, announced Monday by Eli Broad, the Los Angeles megacollector and philanthropist, to build a museum in Downtown LA for his collection should create a cultural and a civic boon for the city: The planned Diller Scofidio & Renfro-designed museum will help to anchor a tripartite arts district -- also including the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall (the big white building at the top center of the above map) and the Arata Isozaki-designed Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA, near the lower left corner). And it will help to energize an area that needs urban redevelopment and more foot traffic.


Broad Collection facility will be built to the left of the Disney Concert Hall (above), home to the LA Philharmonic. MOCA banner is on lamppost to the right

While many details have been released, the design itself won't be unveiled until October. But the Los Angeles Times' architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, got an advance look at the architects' proposal a few weeks ago, and discovered that the architecture's "wow moment" is a lobby that affords views, through a window, of cars heading into the museum's parking garage. A drive-through museum? Only in LA.

Back in 2008, when Broad defied expectations by announcing that he would not donate his collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's (LACMA's) new Broad Contemporary Art Museum (which he had funded), I wrote that it would "be interesting to see if Broad eventually goes the same route as [San Francisco collector Donald] Fisher, endeavoring to establish a single-collector museum."

Ironically, it now turns out that the late Fisher's contemporary collection has recently been committed as a 100-year loan to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (which recently selected the Snøhetta architectural firm to design an expansion to house it). Meanwhile, despite his historically strong patronage ties to both LACMA and MOCA, Broad is forging ahead independently, with a 120,000-square-foot museum of his own.

Some commentators have questioned whether the new $80-100 million facility, expected to be completed in 2012, makes one too many contemporary art museums for Angelenos. I say, the more the merrier, particularly since this newcomer comes with an important 2.000-work collection and a sizable endowment -- some $200 million -- to secure its future beyond the lifetime of its tireless 77-year-old founder. LACMA's and MOCA's loss -- a wide-ranging collection that both may have coveted -- is still LA's gain.

But if the Broad Collection (as the planned new museum is called) wants to be known as a vital museum, not a collector's mausoleum, it will need to Broad-en its sights -- developing dynamic programming that uses the collection as a springboard, not a straitjacket. This will mean bringing in some new curatorial blood and admitting outside loans into the mix. The museum's director will be the well respected Joanne Heyler, who has long been the Broad Foundation's director and chief curator.


Joanne Heyler, director, the Broad Collection

Karen Denne, the Broad Foundation's spokesperson, told me that while "exact programming is still being developed," the single-collector museum may occasionally "exhibit works from other collections. But the focus will be on our artists." The roster of blue-chip names includes: Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, John Baldessari, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Eric Fischl, Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha, Chuck Close, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol.

Still to be determined is whether Broad's chemistry with his chosen architects will turn out better than his collaboration with Renzo Piano on LACMA's lackluster 2008 contemporary art addition.

In the dance between client and architect, Broad, a highly successful construction mogul, likes to lead.