William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Mythbusters: The Broad Conspiracy

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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.

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Comments

  1. …well ya convinced me.

  2. Is it also a conspiracy theory to believe that egotists with mediocre ideas and track records of manipulating non-profits through bait-and-switch tactics should not be playing such a large role in shaping the future of a public institution?

  3. Capitalism works when there is competition. Contemporary art is dominated by one guys vision then the public misses the chance to view multiple visual ideas. Monopoly is not a good result in art or capitalism.

  4. An interesting theory. It moves the conversation in the wrong direction, I think.

  5. Does anyone else wonder how they are going to control the pigeons in that new building?

  6. I’ve voiced the conspiracy theory as a joke. Some people will believe anything.

  7. by Julius Martov

    The idea of Broad’s museum buying anything from an “emerging artist” is laughable. He’s never done that and never will. If he wanted MOCA to be robust he’d use his power for good – like getting new board-members at MOCA who wold donate substantialy to the museum. Instead he leaves a puppet board in place.

  8. I have wondered about the pigeons too. Perhaps poison gas or long tail hawks, we got lots down here in Long Beach. But they are better than squirrels, damn rodents.

    As far as all this, big enders and lil enders…
    LMAO!!!
    Really, no one goes but brown nosers. Even with a hotel right there no one goes except for either the parties, Broads bunch, or wannabes and artiste students, y’all.

    Irrelevant. I think it should be turned into the newest trend, dog sitting and walkin in that fancy new park nearby. Perfect.
    Please pick up after yourselves though, the pigeons will be bad enough.

  9. If Sheriff Joe Arpaio sends in his posse to investigate, it’ll settle this conspiracy theory once and for all.

  10. Nah Cate, George Lopez and a legion of lowriders from the street art show will head him off at the pass.

  11. This is the first sensible article regarding Broad since this whole tragedy of errors began. However, I disagree with two of your statements.

    First, the reason Broad started his own museum was to make certain the bulk of his collection not would be in permanent storage but that much of it would be out on load – either for short terms shows – or longer term individual loans. He has stated LACMA and MOCA would have first right to any pieces they would wish to exhibit.

    Founding a museum with bylaws stating that was what was to be done with the art was the only way he could guarantee the art would be circulating out in the world and it was the main reason why he did not build a larger museum.

    He also envisioned – since the collection is weighted to a certain period of art history and has in depth holdings of many major artists (and many far lesser known LA artists, too )- as being a study collection for scholars which would then be able to work in tandem with MOCA’s more broader collection of contemporary art – and LACMA’s collection (and the Hammer) which will eventually be only a short subway ride away.

    My second disagreement is your believing into the even more bizarre myth that the tax payers of Los Angeles are somehow… subsidizing the Broad Museum. This myth started when the local press – blatantly and repeatedly lied – by stating that Broad had managed to get a backroom deal with the County and the City to only have to pay a one dollar a year for a 99 year lease.

    The first reason this was a lie was the County and the City no longer controlled the property. They had no right to lease it to anyone for any amount of money. They had already leased it for 99 years to the Related Company which already pre-paid 100% of the rent and they used that money to build the new Grand Park that just opened.

    In addition, the lease with Related requested they look for a major cultural institution to build the site but it also prohibited Related from charging more than – one dollar a year – in rent. So not only could the City or the County not legally rent or collect any money from Broad – but their lease with Related also made it illegal for Related to charge Broad more than $1 a year. So even if Broad did want to pay more money – the money would still go to Related since they held the master lease on the property.

    But because of all the bad press the deal was getting – due to the knowingly dishonest reporting of the local media – Broad finally offered to pay a fee equivalent to the rental amount that would go towards building low income housing. So the taxpayers did not subsidize Broad’s museum – but Broad ended up subsiding a project of the county/city of Los Angeles; the exact opposite of what the press reported.

    Then, adding to the mess, the CRA asked Broad if he would build them a public parking parking garage under his museum – since they knew he could build it far faster and cheaper than the CRA could – and he reluctantly agreed (since his plan had been to rent existing spaces in the area for his needs) – strictly as a favor for them – even though he did not want to build that garage.

    He will also have to pay market value for any parking spaces he might want to use – in the 100% CRA owned parking garage – and he will be paid back with a bond – not cash.

    So – if you could get around to killing that myth, too – as opposed to spreading it, I’d appreciate it.

  12. by William Poundstone

    Brady,
    I’ve reworded slightly on the second point.

  13. who knows. if you were a chess player you might think he ’saved’ MOCA because he feared it was headed to a merger with LACMA, by ’saving it’ if that is what you call this mess, it is still available for a merger with ‘his’ museum when the time is ripe. And did I not read, that MOCA has not raised enough money for his full match– he did the save on the cheap?

    what if all this was true, at worst you would have a stronger museum MOCA+Broad, perhaps properly endowed — maybe not the wide open contemporary one that apparently some in LA can’t seem to fund properly

    i think it is the curse of the new– MOCA was founded with certain ideals and flourished for a while, but the more it became established, the more it wanted to be like the big museums, the further it got from its roots– I think you can’t have a big time contemporary museum with all the bells and whistles supported by the zillionaires- they want something sure and substantial.
    If you want a contemporary museum it has to be young, agile and flexible and on the cheap. Back to the days of the temporary contemporary.

  14. This article is misleading in that the so called Conspiracy aspect is hardly what has caused the upset as much as the dumbing down.

  15. Who designed the architectural image shown at the end of this article? Looks like it could be from BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) or Zaha Hadid or..Thanks…

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