That Honeycomb, From Inside: Eli Broad’s Museum is His “Dream Come True”

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Photo by Ted Habte
The third floor of the Broad where art will be displayed for the public; photo by T. Habte-Gabr (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

In a Valentine to the city, the Broad opened its doors this past Sunday to almost 3,000 paying guests, giving them a preview of the museum that is expected to open later this year.

People flocked to experience the much-touted, column-free, third floor space and its main feature designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro: the honeycomb “veil.”

Not all visitors were wowed — DnA heard from people who said it feels “corporate,” or “like a convention center,” due to the vastness of the space and the “flatness” of the natural light that had to be diffused to protect the artworks.

But many were delighted by it, including KCRW’s arts reporter Lisa Napoli, describing her experience below.

There must be something right with the world. Thousands of people snapped up $10 tickets to get a sneak peak inside The Broad museum–and there isn’t even any art on the walls yet. There aren’t even any walls on which to hang art.  (They’ll be added, as needed.) It was a gorgeous Sunday on a holiday weekend, and the mobs started appearing before the appointed first 10am admission time. And that slot was a later add after all the other tickets sold out. Apparently, a whole lot of people were curious to see just how that odd exterior honeycomb looked on the inside.

Art, said Edythe Broad (wife of Eli Broad who stimulated his early passion for art collecting) “is good for the soul,” when I asked her and her husband why they thought people were so excited to step inside this place that will soon house their formidable art collection. In this case, the building is a work of art in itself, although inevitably there will be ballyhooing about whether the ginormous nearly-an-acre main space works or not. The light filtering through the honeycomb in the day was more dramatic than at night, and there appeared to be not much sound protection, as sirens were audible inside. (That’s how realistic sound artist BJ Nilsen’s installation was; his agent contacted us to say the noise I heard was actually part of his ‘abstract audio landscape’ titled DTLA.)

The largest elevator in all of Los Angeles olds art, lots of people, or 5 and a half Cadillacs
The largest elevator in all of Los Angeles holds art, lots of people, or five and a half Cadillacs; photo, T. Habte-Gabr (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Even the freight elevator, which ferried up visitors bearing iPhones at the ready for a first-snap, was super-sized. It is said to be the largest in Los Angeles, and can house five and a half Cadillacs (or so said the patient man who shepherded the crowds on and off all day and into the night on Sunday.)

“This is a dream come true,” Mr. Broad told me when I asked him how he felt, watching people stream in to this, the largest space in the world without support beams.

Whatever the hyperbole associated with The Broad, it’s hard to look at this new building as anything but a gift to the city of Los Angeles, and a boon to this strip of downtown LA in particular (rapidly becoming overshadowed by the more honky-tonk southern end of downtown.)

After years under wraps in a warehouse in Santa Monica, or on loan to other institutions, Broad’s two-thousand piece contemporary art collection is soon to be available to museum-goers in this incredible space. Heck, there’s even going to be a coffee cart outside and a swank restaurant (although, shh, the best coffee in downtown is still to be had at the REDCAT across the street.) What’s there to hate?

“I came into the third floor, the exhibition space, and thought I’d gone into heaven, or a science fiction movie,” said the spry, 84-year old former Mayor Richard Riordan, who served back when downtown Los Angeles was hardly the developer’s paradise it is today. “And then I thought, it shouldn’t surprise me because when Eli Broad does something, he does it big.”

The woman of the hour, though, had to be Joanne Heyler, who for years has served as the Broad’s curator (all the while it’s been a “lending library of art” loaned out to other institutions or hidden away in Santa Monica from public view) and now gets the title of chief of this new museum. “I love seeing the enthusiasm on the faces of people here right now. It is a sea change for us to establish a public museum, but we’re ready and we’re thrilled.”

Angelenos seemed to be thrilled on Sunday, too, at the promise of what’s to come. And of course, kudos to whomever decided to invite three thousand-plus people into this unfinished space, encouraging them to snap and tweet and Facebook away. What better PR could anyone hope for?

Panorama of the Broad art space shows exterior wall of glass curtain and honeycomb; photo, T. Habte-Gabr

Hear Lisa Napoli discuss her experience watching The Broad get built from her apartment window on last week’s DnA.