The Broad Museum rejuvenates downtown Los Angeles’ art scene

As downtown Los Angeles undergoes a transformation to rival the nation’s other urban giants, the city now has an art museum to fit the bill.

The Broad — pronounced like “road” — was funded by billionaire philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad as “a gift to the people of Los Angeles.” The museum gives Angelenos a new reason to venture Downtown. Set in Bunker Hill next to Frank Gehry’s iconic Disney Concert Hall and across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Broad is L.A.’s first major free art attraction since the Getty opened in 1997.

And the city is more than ready. The wait list for weekend admission currently extends until December. More than 80,000 people secured ticket reservations within days of the museum’s Sept. 20 opening.

Eli and Edythe Broad are no strangers to Los Angeles’s contemporary art scene. A few years ago, the couple helped to save the Museum of Contemporary Art, which had a depleted endowment. During MOCA’s opening night, Eli could be seen giving a personal tour to President Bill Clinton who came to town to see the inaugural exhibit.

The Broad’s building is a work of art in its own right. Designed by New York architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the $140 million behemoth features a captivating perforated exterior shell laid over a box-like glass enclosure. An instant downtown landmark, the Broad’s building finally gives the Disney Concert Hall some needed competition in the running for L.A.’s most futuristic architectural feat.

The museum’s entrance area is undoubtedly cave-like, in the best way possible, with exaggerated curved walls that make one feel small. It seems intimate, particularly when visited at night. The main escalator, which is reminiscent of something from the Space Mountain theme park ride, creates tangible anticipation as it leads visitors to the third floor where the exhibit begins. The juxtaposition between the museum’s entrance and the art viewing spaces is striking, as the glass ceilings allow light to spill into the sweeping gallery.

Los Angeles art critics were quick to describe the museum’s collection as predictable. Many argued that the organization of the inaugural exhibit seems like a hodgepodge that doesn’t inspire thought or conversation. Because it is sorted chronologically, the museum inadvertently segregates white male artists from females and international artists. However, this could easily be seen as an art snob’s appraisal. Without a doubt, the Broad delivers great pieces to Los Angeles.

The gallery features 1950s art first, including greats including Jasper Johns’s “Flag” and pieces from Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. In the next room, viewers are greeted by the recognizable pop art of the 1960s. The museum currently houses “I … I’m Sorry!” by Roy Lichtenstein and works by Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol. Twombly and Lichtenstein each have their own rooms. In the next hallway of the third floor, the museum features works from 1980s, including pieces by women and artists of color like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Kara Walker.

Contemporary artist Jeff Koons is particularly well-represented with his larger-than-life stainless steel works, including “Balloon Dog” and “Tulips,” and his porcelain sculpture “Michael Jackson and Bubbles.” In a reflection of today’s sharing society, a number of visitors stop to take pictures and selfies with these spectacle pieces. Unquestionably, the Broad is an Instagrammer’s dream.

The bottom floor contains 21st century works, including a video piece by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson and the particularly stunning 82-foot-long painting “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow” by Japan’s Takashi Murakami. Murakami’s painting was too large to fit on any one wall in the gallery, so the artist agreed to have it split into panels continuously displayed on two walls. The first floor is also home to the motion piece “Bateau de Guerre” by the late Chris Burden, who has a number of pieces featured at LACMA. As typical in a contemporary art gallery, the Broad features several pieces that are reflective of current events, including Robert Longo’s incredible charcoal rendering of the Ferguson Riots.

Arguably, the most talked about piece at the Broad is an installation by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama titled “Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.” Previously featured in New York, the work is a small, square room of mirrors and hundreds of colored lights, where viewers enter one at a time to see a reflection of themselves in the piece.

In the future, the first floor galleries will house temporary exhibitions. According to museum officials, pieces are being added to the collection at a rate of one per week. This room for growth will allow the museum to continually develop and hopefully match the hype of its setting and prestige.

There is still weekday availability to view the Broad’s collection before December, and free tickets can be reserved on the museum’s website. If a selected date is sold out, visitors are welcome to wait in a standby line for availability. The Broad is open six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday.