On Sunday, February 15, the Broad opened its doors on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, proving the ease with which hype can be deflated like a big white balloon. The daylong preview offered VIPs—and, in the later afternoon, members of the public—a sneak peek of the still-raw interior of the three-story, 120,000 square-foot, $140 million building. The Broad will house and exhibit its 2,000-work collection and serve as the Broad Art Foundation’s headquarters. Slated to open officially on September 20, the space still has an unfinished quality (easily the most exciting aspect of the preview), requiring visitors to sign a liability waiver upon entering the construction site.
Diller Scofidio + Renfro have managed to design a building that, in reality, is both underwhelming and garish at the same time. The Broad’s “veil,” an already-infamous element that the architects liken to a honeycomb and Christopher Knight has humorously compared to a cheese grater, forms both its façade and ceiling, which previewers experienced fully with the raw unveiling of the third floor. The success of the design is certainly in capitalizing on LA’s ability to deliver sunshine almost daily, and the skylights and windows formed by the veil do admit light judiciously (though one wonders whether works on paper can be shown in this space at all). Visitors entered through either the stairwell or freight elevator, ascending to find the bright white space free of temporary walls and visible artworks; the gallery seemed to fall victim to the real-estate truism that an empty space feels smaller than one filled with objects. The dynamism of the ceiling was immediately striking—its futuristic modular skylights seemed to tilt the room diagonally like an unsettling Kirchner painting—but it’s hard to imagine works of art having to compete with the ceiling and façade.
From the inside, one sees that the honeycomb modules are positioned on the ceiling and walls in a variety of window sizes that let in light from different angles; they function less as an endlessly repeating pattern than as a sequence of camera-like enclosures that frame various views, a comparison that might lend new appreciation to the odd, gargantuan oculus facing Grand Avenue. And whereas the skylights and windows facing Grand Avenue are smaller, with visitors having to squint to get a sideways look at the street outside, the larger ones facing Walt Disney Concert Hall across 2nd Street will be an unfortunate cautionary reminder of how quickly architecture can look dated. The press materials’ description of the façade as a “porous veil” is reminiscent of architect Yoshio Taniguchi’s claim that, with more money, he could “make the [Museum of Modern Art, New York] architecture disappear” back in 2006. The Broad feels about as porous as MoMA’s architecture is invisible. Visitors are just as hermetically sealed in the gleaming white cube of the third-floor gallery as they are in most modern art museums—only here there is a very ostentatious ceiling for the future artworks to compete with.
To “activate” the space during the preview, the Broad exhibited a 16-channel sound installation called DTLA (2015) by Swedish composer BJ Nilsen, which projects a pastiche of urban sounds from the landscape of Los Angeles. Ambulances, traffic, metro-station announcements, wind chimes, and seagulls could be heard through speakers lining the Grand Avenue side of the space. However, like the tagline “All Eyes on Grand Avenue” on the construction-site banner outside the museum, the piece primarily serves as a reminder of the ghost-town atmosphere of this part of downtown Los Angeles. After sunset, a minimal sound and light piece, Stillness (2010) by Los Angeles-based artist Yann Novak, was activated on the opposite side of the gallery. Though not made specifically for the Broad, Stillness was somewhat more successful as a serene, Zen-like meditation on sound and light, invited by the emptiness of the museum. Despite the media frenzy surrounding Eli and Edythe Broad and the art world who’s-who of the preview, Novak’s slowly changing, two-tone color projection created an atmosphere of contemplation.
Despite the quiet of Grand Street on a typical Sunday, the Broad will join a dynamic cluster of downtown cultural institutions, including its immediate neighbors REDCAT, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Geffen and the art district are not far away. The Broad promises to be a “worldwide lending library” to other museums, making its collection available to international audiences. This aim is supported by the building’s second floor, a dedicated vault space. Hopefully, the collection will serve as an active resource for its local public as well, modeling a generosity that its “porous” design promises but doesn’t quite fulfill.