A collector with an eye to the future
The following article is part of ARTnews’ annual coverage of collecting practices in the art market, anchored by the 200 Top Collectors list.
A handful of collectors have been on the ARTnews Top 200 from the very beginning, in 1990. They are, as one dealer likes to put it, the “hardy perennials,” the ones that keep sprouting up year after year to acquire works, even—you might say, especially—in the depths of a recession. Billionaire financier and philanthropist Eli Broad is one of these. There he was at Sotheby’s in the dismal fall of 2008, snapping up pieces by Donald Judd, Ed Ruscha, Jeff Koons, and Robert Rauschenberg, dropping $8 million in total and telling Carol Vogel of the New York Times he thought of the auction as a “half-price sale.”
When Broad, 82, appeared on our very first list, he had already been collecting for around 15 years. He had started his art foundation, essentially a lending library of artworks, and he had acquired the Panza Collection for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where he was founding chairman. In September, Broad makes his biggest move to date, opening his $140 million Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed Broad museum on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, a project that his longtime curator and now museum director Joanne Heyler jokingly calls her “360-ton baby.” Heyler thinks of Broad’s vast collection as “a significant portrait of contemporary art.” The real challenge with a museum on the scale of the Broad, Heyler said, “is building the institution—building the staff, building the program, and then allowing that to have a life in the community.” Setting the Broad apart from most private museums is its endowment of over $200 million. Broad and his wife, Edythe, also have a sizable personal collection, including works by Giacometti, Picasso, and Lichtenstein.
ARTnews asked Broad about some of the changes in the market and in collecting over the past quarter century, and about how his new museum will fit into Los Angeles’s complex institutional landscape.
Sarah Douglas: What have been the biggest changes in contemporary-art collecting since 1990?
Eli Broad: The world has changed and the art world has dramatically changed. It’s more difficult today to collect than it was in 1990. You’ve got so many more collectors now—not just in the United States but in the Emirates, China, Europe, and elsewhere—wanting to acquire the best contemporary work out there, as evidenced by the [New York auctions in May], which were incredible. In 1990 I doubt the sales were even 10 percent of what we saw in May.
SD: How do you remain competitive in that kind of environment?
EB: There is more competition than ever. From our point of view, we’ve been very fortunate, because artists, art dealers, and others know that we don’t view art as an investment. We don’t sell art, we lend it. We are prolific lenders, both from our art foundation and personally. And now, with the opening of the Broad, we can get works of art from artists that, frankly, others can’t get. So we are in a unique position, together with other major museums, of being able to get work even before it leaves the artist’s studio.
SD: Did your approach to collecting for the foundation change when you started thinking in terms of a museum?
EB: We started thinking about galleries and rooms, about refining the collection, and about how we are going to show this work. So yes, it did change. Before that, it was more free-form. When we saw a great work of art, we would acquire it. Now, when we see a great work of art, we say, how does it fit? How is it going to show with the other works by that artist or by other artists?
SD: Any recent acquisitions you can tell us about? Maybe even ones that will be on view when the Broad opens to the public on September 20?
EB: As recently as [May 13], Joanne Heyler acquired a John Baldessari work [the 1984 piece Horizontal Men (With One Luxuriating), for $725,000 at Christie’s]. I don’t know if we’ll show it in September but we will show it at some point with other works by Baldessari. We continue to collect many of the artists we were collecting in 1990—Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and a number of others. We have been collecting Sherman’s work going on 30 years now.
SD: Over the years, have there been ones that got away?
EB: Certainly over the years there are pieces that got away that I wish we had acquired. But on the other hand, there have been many works of art that we did acquire in the ’80s that have not, frankly, passed the test of time. We feel pretty good about our collection, particularly those artists we have in depth, like Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and others. We keep trying to improve the quality of the collection. And at the same time we are acquiring works of younger artists, like Mark Bradford, who is a good friend, and Mark Grotjahn, and a number of others.
SD: How has your collecting changed between the ’80s and today?
EB: We were far more venturesome in the ’80s, with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel and others. Today, we are not aggressively looking for artists who have not been shown in museums or major galleries. We were doing that back in the East Village days, and in SoHo in the ’80s and early ’90s.
SD: Do you and Edythe make acquisition decisions together?
EB: Sometimes. I’m more active with the acquisitions for the foundation, working with Joanne for 25 years now. But my wife and I talk about collecting decisions, especially if it is for our personal collection.
SD: Speaking of your personal collection, are you as avidly adding to it these days?
EB: We are more selective for the personal collection because it has 600 works and we can only show 75 or 80 works in our homes. We are more venturesome in the foundation’s collection.
SD: How will the Broad museum fit into the Los Angeles museum ecosystem?
EB: If you look at art of the last 60 years, our collection is far superior to anything else in Los Angeles. If you look at MOCA, across the street, MOCA has earlier work, including the Panza Collection. So the Broad fits, right after MOCA’s strength.
Sarah Douglas is editor-in-chief of ARTnews.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 58 under the title “Both a Buyer and Lender Be.”