Over the years The New York Times has been steadily reporting on Los Angeles' art and culture but never as much as in the last year, and definitely not as much as during last week. Wednesday, on the front page of a special Museums section, was a portrait of Eli Broad accompanying an article entitled "Romancing the Collector." It gave details on the intricate courtship between him and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is hoping to become a permanent home to Mr. Broad's collection of contemporary art, valued at over $500 million. According to the article Mr. Broad spends about $25 million annually on collecting art, which befits his status as the major American collector and that of the wealthiest man in California with a fortune of well over $5 billion.
After the failure to raise funds for the rebuilding of most of its campus according to the vision of the architect Rem Koolhaas, LACMA was happy to accept Mr. Broad's gift of $60 million to build a separate structure for his collection on its campus, and to name it after him. Renzo Piano, one of the best and most reliable architects working today, has been chosen to build the pavilion which is going to house Mr. Broad's collection. Although the collection will be administered by museum curators, Mr. Broad will continue to own the art works. You see, when you have $5 billion you can pretty much dictate the conditions. There is understanding that after ten years this collection might be donated to the museum, but until then Mr. Broad keeps all the cards in his hands.
On Friday the New York Times had another L.A. related story on the cover of their Art and Leisure section, highlighting the groundbreaking Minimalism show at MOCA, and on Sunday, there was a long article about Laura Owens, a young, talented Los Angeles painter - very much in the news - who had a retrospective exhibition a year ago at MOCA, which some critics (including myself) found to be a little bit too much and too soon for such a young artist.
Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times brings news about a museum exhibition at Cal State Fullerton, devoted to the most commercial of all the artists I can think of, Thomas Kinkade. It's so easy to make fun of his gooey, sentimental landscapes of villages with their quaint cottages and churches, that I have to restrain myself in describing the inexplicable appeal that his art has to an American mass audience. Last year he reportedly made over $100 million selling his art and licensing his images to different companies. Do you hear the sound of Andy Warhol enviously turning in his grave? If I'm not mistaken this is the first time ever that Thomas Kinkade was awarded a museum show. One hopes that it's the last. I haven't seen the show and, trust me, wild horses won't drag me there. Call me a snob, call me elitist but I don't find it appealing or appropriate to see a greasy hamburger served on a paper plate and calling it fine dining. But as the cynical and rather harsh expression goes, "no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
Thomas Kinkade: "Heaven on Earth"
Main Art Gallery through May 13
Cal State Fullerton Visual Arts Center
800 N. State College Blvd,
(714) 278 3262