Wednesday, August 25, 2010

But what does it mean?

Eli Broad doubles down on Grand

by Joseph Mailander

"Modern sculpture is what you back into when looking at modern painting," Ad Reinhardt famously said. Let's back up a little to see the bigger crazy picture, and maybe bump something over while we're at it.

While everyone is doing the math of the sweetheart deal Eli Broad received downtown (and it is fun math to do, as Tim Cavanaugh demonstrated yesterday), Edward Goldman of KCRW wonders aloud, sotto voce anyway, about what it will be like to have two Broad-beholden museums downtown across the street from each other, even when the already-resident one seems to be in decline.

It seems as though everyone is expecting for Broad to live another twenty years--even if so, it's not likely that he remain so active as the pilot of the once and future institutions he bestrides. His second (de facto) museum on Grand will give us, hopefully, a little more than the first one has; MoCA began promisingly enough but has been sleepy in recent years, and even has missed some big LA painters as the patrons (including Broad) use the space to promote what's in their own collections. Goldman tacitly suggests that Broad try to do better.

On the egoseum itself, the selection of Diller Scofidio + Renfro to build it is a little more nuanced than the typical Broad browbeating of architect as mere ink-stained compass-spinner. Christopher Hawthorne says that "The most dramatic element of the firm's proposal — its wow moment — is a lobby space that will bring pedestrians entering the museum from Grand Avenue face to face, through glass, with drivers on their way down to the museum's parking garage." That is redolent of an exhibit that featured maquettes of Thomas Mayne's recent work at the Beaubourg a few years ago, when the Paris museum mounted an LA show.

Also, the architects wrote: "The public entry to the museum welcomes pedestrians through its Grand Avenue frontage yet still acknowledges the beloved car culture of L.A., refusing to condemn either to a back-door status. … Visitors can either walk into or drive onto the lobby surface." DS+R did a very good job with their New York High Line appropriation.

Broad's chosen firm may show a decent sensibility for public space, but DS+R (and that plus sign, a legit part of the name, is just so A+U, isn't it?) also has very elitist tendencies, and Broad will likely, as he so often does, bring out the worst in it.

It is likely to do so because Broad is no Ira Yellin, though he seems to want to be. It was Yellin who made monuments to last through the ages downtown. He showed artistic sensitivity when redeveloping Grand Central Market; he showed civic understanding when spearheading the Angel's Flight restoration; and as master of the Cathedral competition, which produced the most exquisite spirit-tempered space in the city, Yellin did the very best for a hard-headed Cardinal. (It is no accident that the Cathedral snubs its own Grand Avenue elevation, choosing not to flaunt anything at all on the street it sideswipes, nor that Broad's Central High School for the Performing Arts across the freeway appears to flip the Cathedral off in a characteristically juvenile, jealous gesture.)

Goldman notes that already LA hasn't been inclusive enough of its own artists at local museums, and mentions a couple deserving wider recognition. It will be interesting to see if KCRW, now Ruth-less, gets as angry at Goldman for airing his views the way the station got pissy at Sam Hall Kaplan for airing his about the Disney Hall--well, more than pissy, as Sam was shown the door. Meanwhile--is anyone sick of John Baldessari yet? I sure am...the show is all about visual puns, trite onion layers of conceptualism, and mostly marginal issues, and great artists worthy of museum shows don't exclusively hang out on the margins. But that's precisely where Baldessari hangs out, and that's where Broad hangs out too. He's assembling a street full of baubles.

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