Edythe Broad clearly remembers buying her first artwork. “It was a Picasso print, on a school trip. I saw it, I liked it and I bought it. The excitement was like someone had hit me in the stomach. But then, I’m like that: buying for me is an emotional process. Eli’s the smart one.”
More than six decades later, Edythe and her husband Eli, the American property developer and philanthropist, own so many works of art that last summer they opened a $140m museum in the heart of downtown Los Angeles to house them. Today, The Broad, an elegant white space a few doors from the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Hall, houses more than 2,000 artworks amassed by the couple since the 1960s.
The first “serious work” they bought, Edythe recalls, was by Van Gogh. “But the more we looked at art, the more we enjoyed contemporary pieces. So, we exchanged it for a Rauschenberg.”
Today their contemporary art collection includes works by 200 of the world’s biggest names, including Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky, Jasper Johns, William Kentridge, Barbara Kruger, Charles Ray, Ed Ruscha, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol. What’s impressive is not just the number of important works they have but how many by the same artists. Today, they own the largest collections of works by Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein (outside the Lichtenstein Foundation) and Joseph Beuys.
This, says the museum’s director/chief curator Joanne Heyler, is because “Eli and Edythe have been collecting for more than 50 years, and have known many of the artists. They’ve been friends with Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Cindy Sherman – so they have access to many of their finest works. When Eli first bought Basquiats, he understood that they were more than just graffiti; he’d met the artist when he was living in a basement.”
Although initially the couple bought art for their own pleasure, their collection has now been put in trust for the nation. “We feel it’s important for people to have access to works that reflect our times, so they have a greater understanding of what’s happening around them,” says Eli. “Art is a mirror that reflects the world. We want people to be able to look into that mirror and get a better picture of what’s going on – whether it’s Barbara Kruger’s Your Body Is A Battleground or photographs of the Missouri riots.”
To ensure that the collection remains current, the Broads buy about one new work a week. “It’s a passion and an addiction we’ve had for 30 years,” Eli admits. “Thankfully, we’re privileged enough to keep doing it. By opening The Broad, our hope is that others can enjoy what we have too.”
Unlike many other American institutions, entrance to The Broad is free, and will always be so, thanks to a substantial endowment created by the couple. That, says Eli, “really makes us proud. It’s a great feeling knowing that everyone has access to something that we love.”
The Broad, 221 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles (thebroad.org)