Why Eli Broad had a love-hate relationship with art museums

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LACMA, MOCA, the Hammer — museums had a complicated relationship with Eli Broad. Which partly explains why he ultimately built his own.
You know you're a big deal when everyone in your field knows who you are just by hearing your first name.

Lots of rich people populate the international art world. But say "Eli" wherever you go in those serpentine precincts, and everyone knows you mean Eli Broad. In that regard he was the art world's Cher.

He couldn't sing, but he especially loved Pop art and its descendants, amassing superlative collections of paintings, sculptures and photographs by Jasper Johns (42 works), Andy Warhol (25), Roy Lichtenstein (35), Ed Ruscha (45), John Baldessari (42) Cindy Sherman (127), Jeff Koons (36) and more. When he committed to the work of an artist, he understood the importance of collecting the artist's work in depth.

His vast wealth — estimated at the time of his death at 87 on Friday at nearly $7 billion — made it possible. But he also could use those funds in surprising ways.

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When he dropped $2.47 million on "I…I'm Sorry," a classic 1964-65 Lichtenstein comic-book interpretation of a weeping art collector-turned-dealer Holly Solomon in 1994, he paid by credit card. The card company was offering a mile-per-dollar deal underwriting air travel expenses, so Broad pulled down 2.47 million free air miles along with the masterpiece painting.

He donated the mileage to the California Institute of the Arts so that students could travel — a marvelous gift that, notably, also gave him a large charitable tax deduction. The credit card company promptly changed its mileage rules.

Eli came by his name recognition for good and for ill. Instrumental in helping Los Angeles become one of the most prominent cities internationally for contemporary art, he was also a bull in the newly emerging china shop of L.A. museums.

At various times he served as a trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the UCLA Hammer Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Ultimately, despite ups and downs, the institutional relationships did not go well.

Like many self-made…
Christopher Knight
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