Broad Daylight

Los Angeles

Left: Eli Broad. Right: The ribbon-cutting ceremony for UCLA's Broad Art Center.

“I do believe that LA is one of the great art capitals of the world,” pronounced Eli Broad to the donors, dignitaries, and artists attending the suitably pompous opening of UCLA’s new Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center, the munificent billionaire’s latest attempt to secure his legacy as a city father. Fresh from his latest bid for the Los Angeles Times, the former land developer and insurance executive bequeathed $23.2 million to the Art Center that bears his name (less than half his $50 million gift to LACMA, but who’s counting?). The unseasonably cloudy day did not dampen the enthusiastic spirits of the architects of this new boosterism. Assembled on an outdoor platform in the large plaza in front of the majestic but chilly Richard Meier–designed structure were the Broads, Meier and his architectural amanuensis Michael Paladino, artist Richard Serra, and the First Lady of California, Maria Shriver. Los Angeles, merely a century and a half old and only a metropolis since World War II, is still fertile soil for groundbreaking bids at immortality. Marking a decisive victory in the ongoing war of the LA art schools, Christopher Waterman, dean of the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture, declared, with a warm glance at Broad, that this was another milestone in the relationship between “enlightened benefactors and public institutions.” Other milestones perhaps include Broad’s substantial donations to UCLA’s rivals, like CalArts’ Broad Studios and Claremont College’s Broad Center and Broad Hall.

Although I anticipated hearing about the importance of UCLA’s art department amid this fanfare, I did not expect to hear “UCLA is the greatest art school in the world” three times—most notably from Richard Serra, whose 42.5-ton Cor-Ten steel sculpture, T.E.U.C.L.A., graced the plaza behind the podium. (It may be the heaviest piece of institutionally branded artwork in America.)

“I don’t see anyone I know. This isn’t for us. Inside is for us,” said the affable artist Mark Bradford, surveying a sea of suits and pointing at the Art Center itself. As the crowd around the dais dispersed, I followed the slow-moving heads of white hair into the Center.

Left: Artist Richard Serra. Right: Artists Catherine Opie and Mark Bradford.

Remarkably, the work of the UCLA faculty displayed in the galleries (which in the future will show mostly student art) buttressed the university’s enormous ego. Recent works by John Baldessari hung next to Appliance House, 1998–99, a lighted steel box by Jennifer Bolande, and not far from James Welling’s abstract light-screen photos that oozed orange and yellow magma. Chris Burden enjoyed a prominent video projection that showed excerpts of selected performance works from 1971–75. Despite his abrupt and not altogether happy departure in December 2004, UCLA still proudly exhibited his work and listed Burden, alongside Nancy Rubins and Paul McCarthy, as distinguished emeritus professors. Mary Kelly’s Mea Culpa: Beirut 1982, 1999, a piece of compressed lint marked with words describing the death of a laundress during a bombing of the city of Beirut, offered powerful, though lamentable, contemporary resonance.

I headed out of the galleries and wandered through the sterile white hallways examining a fraction of the eight stories of offices, studios, and classrooms. Not wishing to be late for a potential free meal, I scurried across campus to the private lunch at the chancellor’s mansion. I managed to mix with the crowd sipping white wine on the front driveway, where I overheard artist and UCLA faculty member Christian Moeller complain, “This is the most boring event.” While attempting to enter the luncheon, I was given an irritatingly well-mannered and icy brush-off by a wall of smiling PR people. Demeaned but not defeated, I lingered glumly in the driveway, wondering whom I might spy on the way out. The grand impresario himself was one of the first to leave, and I was dumbfounded to see the esteemed collector struggling on his own to put a unwrapped, framed picture into the trunk of his shiny black Cadillac. Evidently, it didn’t quite fit, so he shoved it unceremoniously into the backseat. Then, climbing behind the steering wheel, he clipped on his shades and disappeared into traffic on Sunset Boulevard.

Left: Architect Richard Meier. Right: Suzanne Booth with LACMA director Michael Govan.

Left: Artists and UCLA faculty Casey Reas and Christian Moeller. Right: UCLA/Hammer curator Russell Ferguson.