Of his early approach to acquiring artwork, Eli Broad has said, "I had a theory that the great collections of the world were made when the art was contemporary-you can't go back and create a great Impressionist or Post-Impressionist collection today." Since assuming this focus in the 1970s, Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad have amassed one of the finest collections of recognized and emerging artists in the U.S. In 1984, they established The Broad Art Foundation to act as a lending institution to museums and universities, thereby reaching a wider audience with their contemporary collections.
Today, the holdings of the Foundation and the Broads total over one thousand works by more than 150 artists. Representing a diverse range of artistic styles that have emerged since the Second World War, the collections particularly target representational works and those with an emphasis on social issues. The Broads have a strong commitment to philanthropy, and in 1999 they founded The Broad Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving public education in urban America.
Organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collections features approximately one hundred works by 20 seminal artists, including John Baldessari, Anselm Kiefer, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol. Together, this selection illustrates important artistic trends from the second half of the 20th century. One of the strongholds of the Broad collections is American art dating from the 1980s, and the exhibition examines work from this decade within the context of the pivotal artistic developments that preceded it, while underlining the relevance of the work today.
The exhibition begins in gallery 305 with the artistic dialogue that grew out of the emotive painting style of Abstract Expressionism, which dominated the New York art world in the 1950s. Together, Jasper Johns and Cy Twombly, who shared a close friendship, employed an expressive style of painting, but they focused their attention on subject matter drawn from the immediate physical world rather than on the qualities of paint. Johns's Flag replicates the image of the American flag through collaged materials, which illustrate the artist's interest in blurring the boundaries between art and life. Twombly employs simplified figurative elements and graffiti-like markings in a manner that references ancient history. Through their incorporation of found objects and vernacular forms, both artists laid the foundation for Pop art-another strength of the Broad collections that is represented in galleries 306 and 307 by the work of Lichtenstein, Ruscha, and Warhol.
Based on the ubiquitous imagery of popular culture and characterized by the use of commercial printing techniques, Pop art emerged in the late 1950s. The Broads own more than 25 works by Lichtenstein, and the full range of his career is represented here. Early paintings such as I... I'm Sorry reproduce the appearance of cheaply-printed comics by mimicking, on an enlarged scale, Benday dots used to create their shading and color variations. In later pieces, Lichtenstein suggests painting styles culled from the history of art-recalling Piet Mondrian or Pablo Picasso, for example-yet he renders them with the flattened graphics intrinsic to comics, thereby conflating high and low culture. Warhol employed Pop as a critique of American society by recontextualizing mass culture's events and icons, among them Elvis, Jackie Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe. Trained as a graphic designer, Warhol used an industrial silk-screening process to create variations on photographs taken from magazines and newspapers. California-based Ruscha represents a particular nostalgia for American culture and West Coast kitsch. Devoid of figuration, Ruscha's early paintings of words, such as Heavy Industry, require the viewer to reconsider idiomatic phrases that evoke the visual language of advertising. Also on view are his more-recent maps of Los Angeles that question the means by which we understand and navigate our surroundings.
Galleries 301, 304, and 302 present several contemporary artists who may be considered in relation to Pop art and whose work the Broads have collected in depth. Charles Ray, in early photographs and later sculptures (in gallery 301), altered the dimensions of mundane forms to render them unfamiliar, a result that is both witty and uncomfortable. Sherman is represented in the Broad collections by more than 108 photographs, and the selection of twenty-three photographs in gallery 304 provides a comprehensive overview of the artist's influential career. Beginning in the late 1970s, Sherman took black-and-white photographs of herself in various outfits and coquettish poses-staged portraits that appear to be film stills taken from B-grade movies of the 1950s or 1960s. More recently, Sherman has assumed guises that reference the stereotypical roles of women in pornography, art history, or the mass media, examining how these representations structure feminine identity. A range of paintings and sculptures in gallery 302 illustrates Jeff Koons's talent for transforming banal subject matter into seductive objects that question the function of art within consumer culture. The towering Balloon Dog magnifies a familiar children's toy to gigantic proportions and permanently captures the ephemeral original in stainless steel. The work is an excellent companion to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao's own monumental Koons work, Puppy (1992), stationed outside of the museum's entrance.
It is important to consider contemporary art from an international perspective, and German art from the past 30 years forms another focus of the Broad collections. Gallery 303 examines the work of several German photographers who have profoundly influenced their field. Systematic studies of industrial architectural typologies by photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher lay the foundation for the exacting nature of Andreas Gursky's digitally manipulated photographs, which capture in overwhelming detail capitalist structures such as stock exchanges and mass-merchandise stores. An entirely different artistic approach is visible in Kiefer's immense paintings that address themes of German nationalism, culture, and history. The emotive, agitated style of Kiefer's brushwork has been linked to Neo-Expressionism, a term also used to identify a group of American painters working in the 1980s.
The exhibition concludes in gallery 105 by highlighting key developments in American painting. On view is a selection of Baldessari's canvases, from his language-based works that helped to define Conceptual art practices in the late 1960s and early 1970s, to his more-recent, expansive photo collages of media-based imagery. Also featured are several artists who came to prominence during the political and cultural upheaval of the 1980s art world.
Jean-Michel Basquiat first gained fame in the 1970s for his poetic graffiti in the New York streets and subway, yet he became more widely recognized in the 1980s for the emotional immediacy of his paintings on canvas. Ross Bleckner's quasi-abstract canvases deal with loss and remembrance, which they first came to embody during the decade's AIDS epidemic. Large-format painting was also emphasized during this period of economic excess, and among such canvases on view are Julian Schnabel's colossal portraits constructed with broken crockery, including his homage to Andy Warhol, Self-Portrait in Andy's Shadow (1987).
Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons offers the rare opportunity to sample the tastes of two influential contemporary art collectors. While not a comprehensive overview of art from the postwar period to present day, the exhibition highlights important artists and movements that have made their marks on the history of 20th-century art.
Exhibition organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Encaustic and collage on three canvas panels
85.1 x 142.9 cm
The Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles