Ahmad Minkara interviews Joanne Heyler Founding Director of The Broad Museum Los Angeles

Ahmad  Minkara interviews Joanne Heyler Founding Director of The Broad Museum Los Angeles



Out of the six contenders for the design of the museum building, the New York firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro won over Rem Koolhaas, Swiss Herzog & de Meuron, the French Christian de Portzamparc; and Japanese Nishizawa & Sejima? What made Eli pick the current structure? Can you please elaborate on “the vault & veil” structure of the building?


The architectural firms who participated were given quite a challenge: the program the Broads and I had in mind for the building was very ambitious.  The first hurdle was, what do you build next to Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall—its exuberant form is a Los Angeles landmark—we wanted something that could match its icon status yet still be harmonious.  Secondly, we wanted to store our 2000 object (and counting) collection onsite and have enough gallery space to mount major exhibitions. The site of the museum is not large—200 x 200 feet with an envelope of 70 feet—so the architects had to be very economical with space. DS+R’s concept of the veil and the vault was an elegant solution to these issues. The vault houses the collection storage and back of house functions and it is at the heart of the building between two floors of exhibition space.  The veil, which is the lattice like shell on the outside of the building, allows for the upper galleries to be almost a full acre of column free space and is designed to carefully filter natural light into the galleries.  The veil is also a response to Disney Hall, porous instead of reflective, square to the ground with entrances that engage pedestrians and street life. DS+R’s design made manifest many of Mr. Broad’s philanthropic and civic ideals: having collection storage onsite and easily accessible makes our collection—even while not on view—available for study by scholars and curators which furthers The Broad Art Foundation’s lending program.  Engaging and enlivening pedestrian life along Grand Avenue has been a longtime goal for the Broads and DS+R’s design spoke to that dynamic in a very practical yet poetic way.



What are the major challenges that you faced while building completing the project? What are the some of the unique features of the museum and of the collection?


Engineering this particular building for earthquakes posed some challenges and we had to adjust some of our original structural design. The vault includes a 45 foot cantilever which forms the ceiling of the lobby and there are thousands of strands of tensioned steel cabling running through the cantilever.  Each “unit” or “cell” that comprises the veil is cast and then welded onto a steel armature, each piece must fit precisely into place.  There are 650 tons of steel inside the veil. We worked with Andy Sedgwick of ARUP, the premier day-lighting engineer on the design of our skylights, which are torqued towards true North capturing indirect light that can be controlled with a computerized shading system.



How is the museum going to engage the Los Angeles community? Is there going to be relationship with LACMA and Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art? How are you going to engage the international community?


There are no formally planned initiatives but LACMA, MOCA, and The Broad represent a thriving ecosystem for viewing art in Los Angeles.  The Hammer and The Getty as well.  Each museum specializes in a different area.  Artists in the Broad collection represent the interests of a single living contemporary art collector and no other museum in LA operates from that perspective.  The Broad holds works by many international artists and our programming reflects the diversity in the collection.  There is now a critical mass of cultural institutions along Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles any international visitor will want to come here and experience it for themselves.



You have run The Broad Art Foundation for 20 years. What have been some of the most challenging moments and the most rewarding moments? What great milestones do you think you have achieved? Do you still find time to curate?


The entire process of planning, building, and opening The Broad has been such a rewarding, once in a lifetime experience.  Working so closely with Liz Diller and Eli to tailor the design of the museum to our collection’s unique needs, it was a chance to do things differently—to innovate—it was a chance to define ourselves and our terms. Curating the first exhibition at The Broad, a museum-wide show highlighting the breadth of the collection, after years of working with the collection in bits and pieces, to have the space to show it and be able to access it easily from our state of the art onsite storage was such a pleasure.



Just like the best works of Marcel Duchamp lie in Philadelphia Museum of Art, is it safe to say that the best work of Jeff Koons is at The Broad museum?


We are very devoted to Jeff’s work and our collection has many prime examples ranging from 1979 to 2015.  On view at the museum now are just a few of Koons’s iconic works in the collection such as Balloon Dog (Blue) (1994-2000), Rabbit (1986), Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988) to name a few.  We also collect many other artists in great depth, like Cindy Sherman. Sustained interest and patronage is very important to the Broads: you won’t find many artists with just one work in the collection.



Can you educate our Middle Eastern audiences with some salient American artists in the collection? Jeff Koons, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Cindy Sherman etc… Can you list some of their salient works?


Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills (1977-80) is a fantastic early series the artist made examining the roles of women portrayed in Hollywood in which she plays the parts of the vamp, the career woman, and the damsel to name a few. Roy Lichtenstein’s Mirror #1 (1969) is a great example of the artist’s complex simplicity which asks so many more questions than it answers.  Many of the American artists in our collection have a Pop sensibility, but Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Bolsena) (1969) is in a world of its own in conversation with ancient histories and timeless themes.



Can you tell us what are some salient European works in the collection?


 We have a near complete set of 572 Joseph Beuys multiples which is such an important part of understanding how Beuys saw life itself as a complete and absurdist kind of artwork; we also have many major Anselm Kiefer works that examine the complex history and psychological impact of WWII including Deutschlands Geisteshelden (1973).  We recently began acquiring works by a Polish artist named Goshka Macuga whose work questions traditional Eastern European political narratives.


What works do you have by the Japanese Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami? Can you tell us more about Kusama’s Infinity Room?


Infinity Mirrored Room was acquired in 2014 and it is our first piece by Yayoi Kusama.  It is a completely immersive installation of LED lights and mirrors that takes the viewer—and their reflection--into the center of seemingly endless space full of twinkling lights and sublime darkness. We own 11 works by Takashi Murakami including the sculpture DOB in the Strange Forest (Blue DOB) (1999).



What criteria is going to be used to acquire future works? Is there going to be room for Middle Eastern artists in the future?


We have no hard and fast criteria for who and how we collect—and we certainly don’t limit ourselves to a particular area of the world.  The Broads and I travel internationally and always have a packed itinerary of artist meetings and viewings. We will continue to strengthen themes already mined in the collection such as pop art and politically charged works that deal with complex contemporary issues.

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