The Broad Appeal


The Broad Appeal

WORDS: Dustin A. Beatty
PHOTOS: Cristina Dunlap

In 1977 artist Edward Kienholz, who was immortalized in ‘The Cool School’ film along with Dennis Hopper and a number of other renegade LA artists, exhibited a life-sized, roaming installation called The Art Show. On the walls of the faux opening hung a number of collages representing collectors, their friends and art-world socialites blowing vented hot air from their metaphorical mouths.

Kienholz was less concerned with the “pretentious nature of art world denizens” than the nuanced conversation between the artist and anyone willing to listen. The self-appointed glitterati and the art-going public were the butt of the joke in The Art Show, but it's hard to ignore that there is some truth to the relationship between art, the audience and the resulting spectacle.

Living examples of the Kienholz piece line up every day outside the Broad Museum in Downtown Los Angeles, which first opened its doors to the public a year ago. It's an impressive gift to the city with added altruism synonymous with the storied careers of its patrons, Eli and Edythe Broad. It’s hard to thumb your nose at it all, but something about the experience raises a few unsettling feelings. Could it be the fact that the Broads made their money developing uninspiring tract housing? Was the anticipation tarnished by a Washington Post article stating, "The Broad's Collection is Boring?" Or maybe it was that this was the first time a contemporary art museum was vicariously launched on social media for anyone lucky enough to snap a selfie the first few months it was open. The sum of all these parts seemed to make a statement about the degradation of the art-going experience.

Visitors to the Broad have lost the plot, caring less about cultural context and more about geotagging Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room like a new exhibit at the zoo. "And if you look to the left you'll spot a John Baldessari!" one could imagine booming over the intercom. The museum offers a peek into the Broads’ vault of blue-chip artworks, where anyone can press their face up to the glass and ogle the stacks of paintings like they’re waiting for the pandas to wake up from their naps.

Celebrities — they’re just like us — frequent the museum; the Broad’s social media team recently posted an interview with Adele on Facebook after she filmed a video in the Kusama room. Adele may be incredibly talented but she is not a valid reason to make the trek for an Instagram post just as you wouldn’t buy a Banksy just because Brad and Angelina collect his work. All of this is making me miss Jeffrey Deitch’s brief tenure as director of the MOCA, who actually created real happenings of significance rooted in movements and hedonism. The Broad’s first year just seems downright pedestrian, but maybe that’s the point.

In the next few years The Broad will seem less and less like the Disneyland of art museums (the Concert Hall is next door) and instead of seeing it just as a new space to house contemporary art, we’ll view the entire experience as an art installation and representation of the culture it attracts. It is a true reflection of a time and place, a spectacle in and of itself like Kienholz might have seen it. To quote his friend Walter Hopps, "The art world is in many ways a microcosm of society: a world within a world in which many of the same issues — power plays, economics, social pretensions — are played out in dramatic fashion and have the potential to
cause an equal amount of chaos and discomfort in an individual's life."