Mythbusters: The Broad Conspiracy

The “Broad Conspiracy” is the belief that Eli Broad wants MOCA to fail. It has quickly become the art world’s birther theory, an all-but-unfalsifiable claim that Broad is scheming for MOCA’s demise so that he can merge MOCA into his own Grand Avenue museum or otherwise acquire its art. In this urban legend Jeffrey Deitch is the Manchurian Candidate, or maybe Roger De Bris in The Producers. “Fire in the Disco” would be the scheme’s “Springtime for Hitler.” (Above, a 2011 LA Anonymous street-art reaction to MOCA’s “Art in the Streets.”)

As far I can tell, the Conspiracy’s first appearance in pixels is Mat Gleason’s June 27 post on Paul Schimmel’s firing:

“If Moca is downsized into a celebrity-curated kunsthalle style circus, it will give the blue chip Broad across the street more Gravitas. And then of course when MOCA is broke yet again – who will save MOCA by purchasing the best paintings in the collection because the museum is more concerned with event programming? The Broad Museum across the street of course.”

Broad himself has denied the Conspiracy. It is “without any foundation whatsoever,” he told the L.A. Times. “Categorically no. If I wanted to do that [merge the collections], why would I have saved MOCA?”

“I know that there’s this conspiracy theory,” Deitch acknowledged. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Aha! you may say. Of course they would say that! Well, fine. Look at Broad’s statements over the past decades. Again and again, he revisits the same talking points. If Broad is a one-man sleeper cell, he’s gone deep, deep undercover.

• Broad loves “populism.” For years he’s been lecturing museums on attendance as a metric of success. Can there be any doubt that his admiration for Jeffrey Deitch is sincere? You don’t have to agree with Broad; you just have to allow that what people say sometimes does reflect their feelings.

• Broad hates for art to be in storage. This was his pretext for not giving his collection to LACMA. He complained about MOCA not showing its permanent collection and got it to put its Rothkos and Lichtensteins back on view.

But Broad’s new museum on Grand Avenue won’t have enough space to show everything at once, either. The last thing he needs, it would seem, is massively more art.

• In fact, Broad’s ambitions for The Broad are relatively modest. He has promised a $200 million endowment, a small fraction of his $6 billion net worth. $200 million sounds like a lot, and it is—unless you’re trying to run a major museum in perpetuity.

After allowing for inflation, the earnings on $200 million should keep the doors open and maybe keep the collection fresh by allowing some acquisitions by emerging artists. But Broad apparently doesn’t envision his museum frittering its resources on expensive blockbusters like “Art in the Streets.” That would be MOCA’s role, funded by someone else. I can’t be the only art patron in L.A., Broad keeps saying, and he’s right.

• Broad likes to “leverage” his philanthropy. That is, get someone else to pay for part of it. He contributed generously to BCAM, but so did others who didn’t get their name on the building. He negotiated for $1-a-year rent at two potential sites for his new museum (Santa Monica and downtown), though he ended up paying a lot more to get approval of the Grand Avenue plan. It would be entirely in keeping with this philosophy for The Broad to piggyback on MOCA’s success in drawing crowds. The more who visit MOCA’s expensive blockbusters, financed by the L.A. zillionaires of the future, the more who will visit The Broad’s low-budget rotations of its permanent collection. As Tyler Green recently tweeted, “The best thing for BAM is for there to be a robust, healthy, respected MOCA nearby.”

There are plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the recent doings at MOCA. Be unhappy for the real reasons, not the fantasy ones.