I’d be delighted to find out that Eli Broad, or his people, are keeping tabs on Santa Monica by way of The Mirror. After all, they’re looking at building a museum for the billionaire’s art collection in our city at a site near the Civic Center while also considering a tempting offer from the city of LA. However, much of the Broad art collection is already being stored in our fair city in a great building near the beach. So it’s only logical that Broad or people on his staff would be waiting, breathlessly, for my thoughts on all this.
Bottom line: The Broad Museum belongs in Santa Monica.
I get to this mostly by way of deduction or subtraction. Beverly Hills was interested, but that was never going to be the right choice. Beverly Hills has too much resonance of possession and material accumulation, and that would have immediately made a museum there feel less accessible to the public and less inviting to serious art people. Some great art is housed in the expensive homes in BH, but making a home for Broad’s museum there would have run the risk of having it housed in a context of art being just one more expensive thing that people with money can own. You might argue that that is, in fact, the case with the art market. But it’s not true of art itself.
All that would seem to logically put the focus on downtown Los Angeles, with the city being a nexus for all people. As you’ve probably read, there’s been a bit of a dust-up about an offer from the city of LA to let Broad rent what the LA Weekly describes as “a piece of choice, taxpayer-owned property next to Walt Disney Concert Hall” for $1 a year. One… dollar. Now there are people who will weigh in on something like this simply because once you start throwing around the words “billionaire” and “deal”, especially in our post Goldman-Sacks news environment right now, it starts to make hot copy. But there is also a sequence of events preceding this offer from L.A. that might be impacting the situation.
Broad decided not to give his considerable collection to LACMA even though he has had a long relationship with the museum, including his crucial assistance in helping to create the complex. Then there’s some hand-wringing about the business stirred into the L.A. deal. There’s a stalled “Grand Avenue” project downtown that would create a large continuous arts zone in the heart of LA. It’s a pretty glorious idea, and like a lot of glorious ideas it’s hit some bumps. Building Broad’s museum on a site in the heart of project’s swath could certainly boost the larger proposal. But there’s also concern about how Broad’s museum plan includes non-public areas for offices for his private foundations’ administration and storage space.
When you mix-in the fact that somebody like Broad doesn’t get to be a billionaire without making some shrewd deals, the downtown location starts to smell a little fishy. Well, Mr. Broad, on certain days when the wind blows properly our town has a fishy smell without any of the embarrassing fishy business details. So that’s one plus for us, right there.
Next I would mention that downtown Los Angeles isn’t exactly hurting for world-class art museums. It’s not that in choosing downtown L.A. Your new museum would be over-looked, but I think it’s safe to say it would get fuller and deeper appreciation as a fixture in Santa Monica. Museum administrators will tell you that programming a museum these days isn’t easy. Everybody wants to have shows that pop and sizzle and bring in visitors. Why have your administrators beating themselves up to top whatever is going on at LACMA or MOCA and compete for downtown visitors who may have seen plenty of art already by the time they arrive at your doors, when your new museum could mean so much to visitors to Santa Monica? And your museum here would integrate splendidly and non-competitively with our gallery scene, and the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and the related energy at Bergamot Station. As basketball coach and art authority Dick Vitale might say, “Serendipity, baby!”
I agree that the life force in any major city’s downtown area must be cultivated and tended to, even though here in Santa Monica we tend to roll-up the streets and set out the next morning’s granola at about 10 pm. So I won’t necessarily scream “Fixed!” if your museum does end up in downtown Los Angeles.
But museums must to do more than simply exist. They need to be looking at a vital and healthy continuing life. I believe a Santa Monica location for your museum guarantees that in a way downtown L.A. cannot. Our hotels serve a global clientele that books their rooms with expectations of a sunshine-drenched walking experience involving our beaches, the retail and hip-hop juggling sensations at the Promenade, and our inviting Main Street. They’ll be delighted to know that the unique and worldly flavor of Santa Monica has now been further enhanced with an important art collection available for public view.
There are some concerns that need to be addressed, and Bobby Shriver is probably right to suggest that Santa Monica should have a voice in things once you’re set-up here. I would also pitch that you avoid the following items in your museum gift shop: Refrigerator magnets, key chains, and dangly earrings. I can’t prove this, but I believe American consumers have reached critical mass on those items. Now, about your biggest problem: What suggestion do you make to Mayor Villaraigosa in terms of something to replace your museum downtown? One word, Mr. Broad: “Laserium!”
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com