Edythe L. and Eli Broad
Philanthropy (The Broad museum, The Broad Art Foundation, and The Broad Foundation)
Having started not one but two Fortune 500 companies, Eli Broad, a retired billionaire who made his money in real estate, is hardly skeptical about capitalism, but in 2019, the 86-year-old philanthropist joined the chorus of America’s wealthy saying that the government needs to do more to combat economic inequality and raise revenue for major projects. “It’s time to start talking seriously about a wealth tax,” Broad wrote in a New York Times op-ed, echoing peers like Warren Buffett and fellow collector Agnes Gund, who have called for tax hikes. It was an intriguing message from someone who once drove a hard bargain with officials over the financing of his namesake Los Angeles museum, and this language was dramatic: “For most people, our system isn’t working.”
Eli founded the Broad Foundation in 1984, creating what would essentially become a lending library of some of contemporary art’s most sought-after works, from Ellsworth Kelly to Jean-Michel Basquiat to Joseph Beuys. His personal art collection, which is distinct from the foundation’s, numbers more than 600 works by the likes of Jeff Koons, Mark Bradford, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman, and David Smith. His $140 million private museum, the Broad, was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and shows pieces from the foundation’s collection of some 2,000 works, including such artists as Jeff Koons, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. It opened in September 2015 in downtown Los Angeles, across the street from the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Broad was the founding chairman of that museum in 1979 and his foundation gave it $30 million in 2008 when MOCA was on the brink of closing after it had dwindled its endowment.
The Broads also helped fund the Zaha Hadid–designed Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, Eli’s alma mater, to the tune of $28 million, and have given $60 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to create the Renzo Piano–designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum. In 2017, Eli announced that he was retiring from philanthropy.
A voracious collector, one of Eli’s most noteworthy purchases over the past few years was Sam Francis’s painting Summer #1 (1957) from Sotheby’s New York in May 2016. The $11.8 million winning bid set a new record for Francis’s work at auction. ARTnews reported from the sale: “Broad explained that he had ‘five, maybe six’ works by Francis already, but came to Sotheby’s looking to leave with another.”
Eli is known for his hard-driving style when it comes to business and philanthropic donations. According to a 2010 New Yorker profile, he once quipped, in response to someone criticizing his toughness, “You want nice, call Edye!”