An art collector with Broad influence opens his own museum

Billionaire Eli Broad began his fortune building tract homes in the Detroit suburbs, and over the decades he and his wife also built an impressive art collection. Now the brand new Broad Museum is set to open in Los Angeles, part of his larger effort to make the city into an arts mecca. Jeffrey Brown reports.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Los Angeles' cultural scene is about to get a big new showcase for contemporary art. A new museum opens this weekend featuring the work of major artists from the past six decades, all from the private collection of a longtime arts patron.

    Jeffrey Brown takes us there for a preview.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Billionaire art collector Eli Broad still remembers how he managed to acquire this early painting by modern master Roy Lichtenstein.

  • ELI BROAD, Philanthropist:

    A Parisian collector wanted a lot of money for it. I wasn't going to pay that. So what I did is, I wrote a check for X-million dollars and said, you could take the check, send me the art, or tear it up.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Really?

  • ELI BROAD:

    And we ended up with the art.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Not something that most of us can do, but Eli Broad can and has for more than four decades. The results can now be seen in the brand-new $140 million Broad Museum in Los Angeles.

    Designed by the firm of Diller Scofidio and Renfro, it features an outer honeycomb veil that allows natural light to filter in, a floor for storage of art works that visitors can peer into, and 30 galleries filled with big names in modern and contemporary art, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Kara Walker, Jeff Koons, and many others, including Jasper Johns.

    A number of these, I understand, were in your home.

  • ELI BROAD:

    They were indeed.

  • WOMAN:

    Sorry about that.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, why that — why do you make that face?

  • ELI BROAD:

    Well, I decided we want the best work to be shown in public, so we stripped a lot of work off our walls. I want it seen by the largest audience possible.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It's a long way from Eli Broad's modest childhood home in Detroit, where, he says, there was no art on the walls.

    The son of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, Broad graduated from Michigan State University, married Edye Lawson, and started a business building tract homes in the suburbs of Detroit.

    It grew into KB Homes, one of the nation's largest homebuilders. He later created SunAmerica, a large investment company. It all propelled Broad onto the Forbes list of wealthiest people in the world. Last year, his net worth was estimated at over $7 billion.

    He is a major philanthropist in education and medicine, as well as the arts, one known for keeping a strong, even controlling hand in his various projects.

  • ELI BROAD:

    We pledged to give 75 percent of our wealth away during our lifetime.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And you're sort of smiling as you say that. Do you — is it fun, a fun thing to do, to give it away?

  • ELI BROAD:

    I see it as investment, rather than just charity.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    What's the investment? What do you mean, investment in what?

  • ELI BROAD:

    You want a return in education. You want to see scientific and medical research breakthroughs. And the art, you want to share it with the broadest possible public to get more people interested in art.

  • JOANNE HEYLER, Director, The Broad Museum:

    This is a work by Los Angeles artist Robert Therrien.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The Broads began collecting art in the 1970s, and for the last 26 years have relied on the professional advice of curator Joanne Heyler, who will now serve as director of the new museum.

    She showed me one of the more whimsical pieces in the collection.

    So, under the table, it's a child's-eye view or something?

  • JOANNE HEYLER:

    It does feel like a child's-eye view, an almost "Alice in Wonderland" experience.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Over time, the Broads acquired 2,000 works of art, adding a new piece almost every week. And the collection has long functioned as a kind of lending library, with some 8,000 loans to more than 500 art institutions.

    Heyler says it's been rapid-fire buying, but always with an eye toward a public mission.

  • JOANNE HEYLER:

    We're deep investors in an artist's work, so we really want to know what we're getting into when we buy.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Investors in the sense of — not as in buying it to make money, but…

  • JOANNE HEYLER:

    Investors in the sense of art history, investors in the sense of trying to promote their work to the public, not in any financial sense.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Do you feel that's a big role, to be part of art history? Is it that grand, in a sense?

  • JOANNE HEYLER:

    Well, you shoot for that. You aspire for that. And, again, when you're in the realm of contemporary art, you can't be sure. And you have to like not being sure all the time.

  • MARK BRADFORD, Artist:

    I like these snap lines.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    One of the artists the Broads have collected in depth is Mark Bradford, who we visited in his huge studio in an industrial part of South Los Angeles. His Scorched Earth painting, about the aftermath of the L.A. riots, is featured in the inaugural exhibit at the museum.

    As a young artist just out of grad school, Bradford said, he'd heard of the Broads, but:

  • MARK BRADFORD:

    It was all just folklore to me, the Broads, the Broad collection.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    You didn't know what that meant.

  • MARK BRADFORD:

    I didn't know. I probably — probably, the first time said the Broad, I probably said the Broad.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Years later, he says this of the Broads' influence:

  • MARK BRADFORD:

    I think it's important when collectors collect in depth of an artist, because you don't feel like they're just doing baseball cards: I have one of this and one of this and one of this. You really feel like they're committed to your work over the long period. And that, for me, means something, because you can see your growth in the work.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Oh, really?

  • MARK BRADFORD:

    Sure. You go, oh, that was good, or, whoa, I'm a little bit better. Oh. But you can see that…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Just looking in one place.

  • MARK BRADFORD:

    One place.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In his collection.

    L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight applauds that kind of long-term commitment, but wishes the overall collection reached beyond so-called blue-chip art and deeper into what's been produced in Los Angeles.

  • CHRISTOPHER KNIGHT, Los Angeles Times:

    The primary limitation of the collection is that it's a market-driven collection, which is a very narrow sliver of the very active art world of the last 30 years. And I wish it had a greater representation of art that has been produced in Los Angeles.

    There is nowhere to go where one can see the evolution of the development of art in Los Angeles. There isn't one. And there should be.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Eli Broad, though, is obsessed with developing L.A. as a leading capital of the art world. The new building is part of an arts district he's helped create, stretching along Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, and including Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

    What was the idea that you wanted to…

  • ELI BROAD:

    The ideal one is to create a vibrant center for a region of 14 million people. And I consider this to be the regional cultural and civic center for the region of 14 million people.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Which it didn't have?

  • ELI BROAD:

    It did not have before.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Whether the new Broad helps further that vision for downtown is one of the big question marks as it opens this weekend.

    From Los Angeles, I'm Jeffrey Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

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