With colorful, large-scale contemporary art and an impressively steady surge of excited visitors, LA’s newest star, The Broad Museum, is invigorating and — dare we say it? — seriously fun. Especially for families.
Eli and Edythe Broad’s collection of over 2000 pieces of post-war and contemporary art is impressive by any standard, so the surprise is that the inaugural exhibition has it’s own intoxicating energy. To traipse from gallery to gallery is to venture back through 50 years of art history, where the pleasures come from seeing an old friend (say, Andy Warhol) or discovering a new and indelible talent (say, Kara Walker).
We were also delighted that the building is more fun on the inside than we expected. Take a look at the swooping space of the lobby, which doesn’t have a traditional ticket booth, allowing visitors to be swept immediately up into the fun.
Our verdict for families?! Absolute enthusiasm. Here’s why we love it:
The Collection and Building: The Broads have loaned out their art for years, and are significant benefactors to both LACMA and MOCA. So, why did they feel the need to hire architects Diller and Scofidio Renfo to design another repository for their copious collection? The answer is that an epic collection deserves a correspondingly massive home of its own. So big is where this whole adventure begins.
From the moment we entered the cave-like entry hall, The Broad buzzed with excitement. With a stately olive-tree filled plaza to the south, MOCA across the street, and Disney Hall to the north, it’s a pretty sweet location. A restaurant by Chef Timothy Hollingsworth and Restauranteur Bill Chair will open later this fall.
How to navigate: Upon entering, we wondered whether to take the escalator up to the top floor immediately, or explore the ground floor hallways first. We started on the ground floor, which was an excellent choice because we immediately found ourselves surrounded, in one of the first small galleries, by four immense Thomas Struth photographs depicting museum-goers looking at art in Florence, Italy. Huge prints of life-sized people gazing into unspecified object (such as us, the viewers, standing in the center of the four walls) underlines what we are at the museum to do: Look at art. But also, Struth reminds us, be seen looking at art. We’re all in this together, the images seem to be saying – so let’s get going.
Most of the art is BIG: Size seems to matter at The Broad – and the pure scale of most of what is in the galleries offers a gentle nudge out of one’s comfort zone. Upon entering the museum, the visitor quickly adopts a child-like post: What is going on? What am I supposed to feel?
At the top of the main elevator, which goes from the ground to the top floor, are Jeff Koons’ colorful and gigantic “Tulips.” Whether you like the artist or not, these are darn hard to resist. “Under the Table” by Robert Therrien is a larger than life sized table and chair, which delight by dwarfing the viewer as they over come a tight space in the corner of the top galleries.
A room of four Ellsworth Kelly canvases provides a calming temple of elementary colors and shapes (and we learned that the elevator was built specifically to hold this piece, the largest in the museum). A room encircled by Takashi Murikami’s energized “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow,” evokes Japan’s 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster, and is centered around a sculpture by the artist that was inspired by a moment from Alice in Wonderland.
There’s much, much more; if childlike wonder can be induced, The Broad has it down.
Visitors Welcome: With few exceptions,the work on display is either radically famous and therefore familiar, or aesthetically easy to digest. The result is that it’s impossible not to be drawn in. Each VSA that we met (Visitor Services Associate) was cheery and helpful, as in love with the work as is possible. Apparently, Eli had them all start their jobs six months ago to get up to speed with the work they stand with all day. It’s a nice improvement on the model of a disinterested guard.
Pure and Simple: In the age of perfectly crafted online images, you will feel as though you are paging through a fresh clean book when you wander from gallery to gallery. This room of Andy Warhol icons is pretty sweet. And, your smile will widen as you turn any next corner, say on a room full of Cy Twombly paintings, or an Ed Ruscha of “Norm’s Diner”. It was a treat to discover Jasper John’s iconic American flag painting, Basquiat and Keith Haring’s finest side-by-side, two pieces by the audacious Damien Hirst, and finally LA’s faves, Chris Burden and Mark Bradford, all represented by canvasses that you can share with kids. We’d be surprised if this experience doesn’t convince them that museum going is pretty cool. (N.B. The Kara Walker room is not for kids – it depicts the sexual and racial depravity of plantation life).
Snap Away: Take all the photos you like – draw at your leisure. If ever a museum was poised to conquer viewers in the age of the selfie and Instagram, this is it. Visitors can snap away (keep a two feel radius from the art, however). Most popular is the Infinity Mirror Room by Yayoi Kusama, which you’ve probably already seen on Instagram. (Visitors enter the room alone, so grab a timed-entry ticket and be prepared to wait in line!).
Oh… and Learn! Be sure to download The Broad’s app from the iTunes store or Google Play before entering (perhaps while you are waiting in line). Visitors can take one of four tours through the museum — an Architecture Tour, Artists on Artists, Inside the Broad Collection, and Looking with Levar (which features Levar Burton as tour guide to 20 stops of kid friendly art such as Warhol’s Campbell Soup Can, or Green Apple by Ellsworth Kelly, or Balloon Dog (Blue) Dog by Jeff Koons. We found LeVar to be the perfect host: mercifully brief and with a bevy of memorable facts.
The museum is FREE: The most elementary way for a museum to attract the pubic is to remove any possible barrier to entry. Free goes a long way, though currently you need to reserve online for the free access. Over time, it will become normal to drop in and visit a favorite corner of the building, and go along your way. (Remember how difficult it was to get into The Getty when it first opened?).
The website is terrific: The Broad’s website is clean and transparent, easy to navigat, and replete with friendly information about the artists themselves and the work in the collection. It’s interesting to see how many works of each artists are in the vaults, and let’s face it – it’s never too late to brush up on your art history.
No Sales Pitch: All in all, visitors are embraced and encouraged to get involved. There is not a big sales push anywhere, though you can purchase a book or tee shirt as you exit. We loved looking through a peep hole at the art vault on the second floor. Even the art that is NOT on the walls is visible — a sort-of highlights of things to come, but also an indication of the depth of the collection.
Reserve your FREE Tickets: Do what you can to get a reservation on the books ASAP. Online ticketing is booked through early December but for those of the faithful with patience, you can show up any day and wait in line for stand-by ticketing.
Extra Credit: Read Eli Broad’s book “The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking” to learn more about the philanthropist whose name is almost every where you look in LA; in the arts from LACMA to MOCA and The Broad Stage, as well as The Opera and UCLA’s School of Arts and Architecture, and with great reach into educational endowments that significantly impact the future of kids in LA.