Never before have I lost my cool in an art museum. Never have I shrieked, paced, or had to step outside for air while viewing an exhibit. Then I went the Broad Contemporary Art Museum in Los Angeles. It all started with a gang of Jeff Koons sculptures -- a giant balloon animal dog with a nickel-infused shiny blue finish next to an equally shiny, large red egg cracked open to signify the birth of this new museum. Next to those were three of Koons's enormous neon-bright paintings, two aluminum sculptures of inflatable pool toys stuffed in ladders, a golden porcelain Michael Jackson sculpture you may have seen at SFMOMA, three basketballs in a fish tank, and more. While marveling at the Koons extravaganza, I nearly tripped over a pile of Andy Warhol's Kelloggs' boxes. In the same gallery were several of Warhol's celebrity prints and one the last works he created, a 35-foot long painting from the Camouflage series. It seemed like a curator's bad dream, and it was only the first of the Broad's many impressively overwhelming galleries.
Rounding the corner, I found endless spaces, each dedicated to a big name contemporary artist -- Rauschenberg, Johns, Lichtenstein, Basquiat, the list goes on. Somewhere between the darkened room full of Mike Kelley installations, and a gallery with floor-to-ceiling Cindy Sherman photographs, I began to feel dizzy. Facing more artwork than I'd ever seen at once -- from two of my favorite artists in close sequence -- was too much. Even more unreal was the knowledge that someone independently purchased most of this artwork for his own personal collection. Yes, Eli Broad built his own museum on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's campus to house and display his collection. He wants L.A. to be the contemporary art center of the universe and he is perpetuating a trend among art collectors that is, according to the Wall Street Journal, unnerving the world's museum directors.
Broad likes his art big. Even the museum's super-sized glass elevator was customized with a three-story Barbara Kruger installation. One gallery held Robert Therrien's monster-sized wooden table and chairs; it made me feel Lilliputian, and as much as I wanted to scoff at Broad's lavish collection, I liked it. Another gallery was filled with Chris Burden's Hell Gate Bridge. Burden also installed a grove of antique street lamps outside the museum alongside Koons' big balloon Tulips, and Charles Ray's scaled-up replica of a wooden toy Firetruck.
Then there was Damian Hirst's work: a greenhouse complete with live butterflies and a robotic scientist in one room, and a sheep in formaldehyde in another. I don't know what Hirst's preserved farm animals cost these days, but one of his formaldehyde fish is expected to sell for one million pounds in the UK. This brings us to the first floor, which was filled with two Richard Serra sculptures, Sequence and Band. For those unfamiliar with the size of Serra's work, it is often made of several hundred tons of steel and requires the temporary reinforcement of any bridges it travels over. The sculptures were staggering, like towering ribbons of rusty steel forming a labyrinth almost as high as the ceiling. The dizziness returned.
Now that I've name-dropped my way through the description, I probably don't need to point out that white American male artists dominate Broad's collection. For some stats on the artists and a real critique, check out Roberta Smith's NY Times review and slideshow.
A word to the wise for any disbelieving contemporary art nerds like myself who will need to see BCAM immediately: bring a paper bag in case of hyperventilation. I haven't described even half of the museum.