The Broad (pronounced as if ‘bro’ had a past tense) is nailing it. Having been through the disappointment of not attending on my first day, (I was denied access due to a burst water main but acquired a VIP pass as a consolation prize) I was itching with anticipation to get through the front doors of this elegantly organic-looking Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed building. Visiting the Broad usually requires guests to book a spot online despite it being free. Guests then join the throngs of other visitors in a line that on this particular Saturday stretched down the street and around the block. My coveted VIP pass, however gained me swift and instant access. Inside the rounded concrete contours of the foyer give the vague impression that the building evolved naturally out of the street scape rather than just being built. A concrete tube houses an escalator that takes visitors directly to the third level and permanent colleciton while the ground floor presents a revolving itinerary of ‘collection installations’. On my visit this installation was ‘Oracle’ – a vast collection of works that interrogates globalising forces worldwide. Like, I assume every other visitor that day, I had intended to visit Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Mirrored Room’ (what is essentially an dazzling LED light show with mirrors), the check-in-iPad-defending gallery attendant informed me the earliest session (only one person may enter at a time) was some three and half hours later when I was due to be back at LAX and on my way to St. Louis, Missouri. Fighting the disappointment I moved on in to the ‘Oracle’ installation. The first work I encountered so brilliantly summed up the energy this institution exudes. Iranian American artist Shirin Neshat’s video piece presents two opposing projection screens, each displaying black and white footage with an energised, driving soundscape. Visitors sit opposite each other, as if there is an invisible cat walk running between the opposing side. On one screen, a group of men wearing Western suits gaze languidly over their left shoulder from a rampart wall. On the other screen, a group of women in traditional chador run toward a beach and, with celebratory energy push a boat out to a turbulent sea. Visitors glance back at the men who in turn glance back at the women which in turn the visitors mimic. The effect is an almost playful gender divide that not half capitalises on the women in traditional attire doing “man’s work” with their ankles exposed. It sets up a great comradery with your own side and a fun, us-versus-them relationship with the visitors on the other side of the room which, in partnership with the energised score creates a brilliant energy to begin exploring the gallery.
The Broad interior – downstairs (click to explore)
Moving further into the belly of the gallery reveals the utter scale of the structure. It really is quite Tardis-like as the neat, compact exterior gives little sense of the vast and impressively accomodating walls of the gallery within. Sterling Ruby’s ‘SP272’ and ‘SP272 (2)’ are mind bogglingly massive works but sit so comfortably inside the Broad. This illusion continues throughout the building – you never get the sense that you’re in a particularly massive space until you really step back and appreciate the monumental works in the collection.
Up the escalator-tube and visitors embark on an investigation of the permanent collection, and it’s fun.
The escalator tube.
Arriving at Jeff Koons’ deluxe ‘Tulips’ sets the tone for philanthropist Eli Broad’s accessible, energetic collection that spans the gamut of international postwar contemporary art. It plays to its strengths. Despite criticism of it being trashy the collection draws huge crowds of people who are palpably excited to be there. A huge collection of Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger works put a discourse on gender front and centre to the gallery which, despite its proportions, never imposes itself on the works.
The Broad interior – upstairs (click to explore)
Navigation is augmented via a wickedly designed app that is clean and unobtrusive and makes use of the free Broad wifi. Logging in via the captive portal with Instagram was a novel experience if a little clunky as it frustratingly still desired my email address (which I happily provided). Booking my place with the website was also completely seamless (however I had to arrive in person on my first day in LA to receive the information that the water main had burst. Surely I could have been emailed?). Bluetooth beacons continue to be flaky, even in this diligently thought out visitor experience.
Coming back down the stairs from the second floor reveals what is hands down my favourite part of the whole experience. I have the privilege in my work to visit a lot of collections departments and archives, where passionate, intelligent people are the custodians of priceless objects before curators decide the world should see them. I have made it my life’s work to reveal these people and places to the greater world. The Broad, (un)fortunately has beaten me to the punch. Half way down the stairs back down to the lobby is an aperture in the organic concrete wall the spies into the storage racks of countless objects. Conservators busy themselves with their work. The floor is unpolished concrete and exquisitely functional. It’s like a surgeon opening up the gallery’s chest cavity to reveal its beating heart. I smiled broadly (no pun intended).
Back down on the ground floor and insanely happy that this was my last museum experience in Los Angeles for this trip, I even succumbed to the gift shop.