Los Angeles is getting a brand new art museum that houses artworks by 8 of the 10 most expensive living artists—and it’s all free to the public, thanks to a billionaire who made his fortune in real estate.
“We want to share the works in our collection with the broadest possible audience,” philanthropist Eli Broad told a group of journalists who gathered at the museum, which opens to the public on Sunday.
The inaugural show at The Broad Museum will display art from artists who aren’t afraid to make social commentary in their work. And the museum itself is shifting the traditional ways in which art institutions operate.
Admission to the museum will be free and visitors won’t see any guards in suits or ropes blocking the art. Only one other major contemporary art museum in the nation has gone without the traditional guards and opted for more engaging staff who both engage visitors about the art and protect it.
A diverse group of what The Broad is calling Visitor Service Associates hangs out in the galleries wearing their own black clothes, part of an effort to make the museum more accessible and less intimidating.
Most notably, teens as young as 13 will be able visit the museum on their own. This is especially meaningful because art programs in L.A. public schools have been decimated in the last few years.
“I’m often asked why it’s important for people to have access to contemporary art. The answer’s simple; contemporary art is the art of our time. It reflects an important social, political and cultural commentary on the world in which we live,” Broad said.
Visitors entering the first floor gallery will immediately be confronted with a 7-by-10-foot charcoal drawing depicting what looks like a war zone. The black and white piece illustrates a line of officers wearing helmets under a haze of smoke, or tear gas. The piece by artist Robert Longo is labeled Untitled (Ferguson Police, August 13, 2014).
Across from Longo’s piece is an artwork by Ellen Gallagher that explores stereotypes of race and gender. The installation includes 60 frames that hang on a wall. Each frame recasts material from African American magazines, such as Ebony and Our World, from the 1930s to the 70s.
The inaugural collection also includes a mirror-polished stainless steel Balloon Dog by artist Jeff Koons. A similar piece fetched $58.4 million, the most expensive piece of art ever sold by a living artist. The collection includes 34 works by Koons.
“We have absolute evidence that art opens minds and hearts of children and inspires them to be more productive in their homes, school and their communities,” said Bob Smiland, president of Inner-City Arts, an arts organization that works with youth in high-poverty areas in and around Los Angeles' city center.
“[The museum] is a real symbol of somebody making a statement of access and equality,” said Smiland.
The collection also has 42 works by Jasper Johns, who last year sold the second most expensive work of art by a living artist. Los Angeles’ very own Ed Rusha takes the third spot in the most expensive living artist list and has 45 pieces in the collection.
The museum does share something in common with museums that have expensive admission prices across the country: a lack of gender and racial diversity. Three gallery attendants using the museum’s own digital app and one media representative could not name a Latino artist in the inaugural show, a bit surprising considering the city’s population and Broad’s politicized taste in art. The larger Broad collection in the vaults does include two Pablo Picassos, but no Frida Kahlos.
Still, the works in the inaugural show by artists of color are featured prominently. Kara Walker’s black-paper silhouette figures have a relatively large room of their own. Takashi Murakami also has a space devoted to his work. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s large canvases also get their own space.
Once you enter Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room all of life’s frustrations go away.
The Broad Museum opens to the public on Sunday. Admission is free.