$56 million facility opens next to LACMA

While it currently focuses on art purchases made over the last 20-odd years by Eli and Edythe Broad, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum was hailed Thursday as a “21st century encyclopedic museum” by the team behind the latest addition to the city’s art space.

Architect Renzo Piano, LACMA director Michael Govan and businessman, philanthropist and art collector Eli Broad oversaw the Thursday press opening of the three-story, $56 million expansion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Piano called its creation “a miracle,” noting the speed with which the project went from approved plan to completion — three years, eight months — and the city’s willingness to eliminate a street and a parking garage to fit the building and a plaza.

Considered part one of the L.A. County Museum of Art’s transformation project, for which $201.1 million has been raised, the building gives LACMA 60,000 square feet of new space to be dedicated to contemporary art. The initial installation is 160 works from the Broads’ personal collection plus 40 works from LACMA’s holdings and other lenders.

“We have made 7,000 loans to 450 different organizations,” Broad said of his foundation’s work over the last 24 years, “but our priority remains Los Angeles and LACMA.”

The travertine-clad building will open to the public on Feb. 16. Museum admission will be free for the first three days.

While the entrance to LACMA’s main space is set back from its Wilshire Boulevard facade, BCAM’s entrance faces Sixth Street and is on the third floor. Patrons take a lengthy ride on an outdoor escalator, painted the same “Renzo red” that appears on red girders and beams around the building. The interior is overwhelmingly white, save for an enormous glass-front elevator that appears to be a moving room of red art.

The third floor is airy and spacious, the building’s most welcoming exhibition space thanks to ambient light pouring in. The central space, the Jane and Marc Nathanson Gallery, includes Jeff Koons’ “Cracked Egg (Red),” the image of which is being used to promote BCAM, and several other whimsical works from the artist, who works with basketballs and vacuum cleaners and created “Balloon Dog” out of stainless steel.

Art works in the top two floors reveal more about the Broads’ buying style than any historical or aesthetic decisions. The collections are usually of four to eight works, all displayed to be taken in individually. Works by John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, Cy Twombly, Jasper Johns and Richard Rauschenberg dominate the third floor. Some Warhols are tucked behind a wall and easy to miss.

The second floor, with lower ceilings, less light and a single wall painted olive instead of white, has a more claustrophobic feel, and the tone of the works is darker than on the top level. On display are a set of Basquiat paintings, including his well-known “Horn Players,” 51 Cindy Sherman photographs and Robert Therrien’s gigantic dining room set, “Under the Table.” The Broads appear to be fans of concrete imagery and works with words on them; there are no abstract expressionist paintings — works that most contemporary art museums would consider essential to a collection.

The ground floor is devoted to the museum’s centerpiece, two Richard Serra steel sculptures from 2006, “Band” and “Sequence.” Similar to his enormous pieces in Bilbao and one displayed at Gotham’s MoMA last year, the steel works are nearly 13 feet high. “Sequence” is a spiral maze that takes the viewer, who walks alongside the work, to a good-sized circular center; “Band” is more of a bent wall. Like his other similar works, they are brown, with the surfaces resembling stone, dirt walls, fabric and wood; they are heavily stained in some cases and elsewhere smooth and unblemished. As the viewer walks along the work, alterations in breathing space and light are experienced, pulling you into specific details in the steel wall.

The new building is situated to the west of LACMA across a new outdoor plaza that also includes exhibition space. The BP Grand Entrance, which faces Wilshire Boulevard, includes a collection of vintage L.A. streetlamps (“Urban Light” by Chris Burden), Koons’ “Tulips” and Charles Ray’s “Firetruck.” Area also includes Robert Irwin’s palm garden, 54- by 52-foot scrims with art by Baldessari and a Barbara Kruger installation.

The second phase of the so-called transformation will see the arrival of Koons’ “Train” — 2011 is the target date — plus the construction of a Piano-designed single-story building behind BCAM and expansion of the palm garden. Phase two will also include a rehabilitation of LACMA West, the former May Co. building constructed in 1939 at Fairfax and Wilshire, expansion of the Boone Children’s Gallery and a new restaurant.

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