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The Broad Museum Is Set to Reopen With A Commitment To Diversity

A gallery at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles with paintings by Mark Bradford on the walls and a sculpture by Jeff Koons in the background.
The Broad Museum is set to reopen in late May.
(John Horn
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The late businessman, philanthropist and art collector Eli Broad was drawn not only to Pop art, but also to Pop art created by white men: Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Jeff Koons most prominently among them.

But when The Broad welcomes the public into its galleries on May 26 for the first time in more than a year, guests will notice several visible signs of an evolution.

In signage at the start of a new exhibition dedicated to art made in response to trauma and upheaval, the Broad states: “As we strive for racial justice, we must acknowledge how far we are from achieving this goal, as a museum and as a society.”

And when visitors disembark from the museum’s epic escalator into its third floor galleries, the focus is less on a shiny Koons balloon sculpture than on a surrounding series of massive collage paintings from the Black artist Mark Bradford.

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“Things are changing here. We're doing a great deal of work internally. I'm listening very carefully."

Like many local arts organizations, the Broad was devastated by the pandemic. Just as it had welcomed nearly one million visitors in the previous year, the museum was forced to lay off more than 100 employees. Yet the pause also gave the museum, under the direction of founding director Joanne Heyler, to redouble its efforts to diversify its collection and staff.

Since The Broad opened in September 2015, Heyler said more than half of its acquisitions have been works from non-white artists, and the numbers are the same for new hires in the museum’s administrative staff.

“Things are changing here. We're doing a great deal of work internally. I'm listening very carefully,” said Heyler, even as she acknowledges that museums are “not the fastest moving creatures in the world.”

Yet the museum did move quickly in curating and installing the first show to be on display when the doors are unlocked (reserved admission times are now available online, and still free). Called “Invisible Sun,” The Broad says the exhibition of 59 works — 16 of them new acquisitions — was “Developed amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the groundswell of demands for social justice and racial equity.”

Among the more arresting works is El Anatsui’s “Intermittent Signals,” an articulated sculpture the Ghanian artist assembled from fragments of found objects, and Jenny Holzer’s “Under a Rock,” 10 black granite benches inscribed with occasionally disturbing text — a work that feels like a memorial.

Heyler said that Broad — who died April 30 at age 87 — and his wife, Edythe, “were always drawn to work with strong social and political critique, which often leads to artists addressing various passages — personal, political and social — in their work.”

One of the museum’s most popular installations, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Rooms — “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” and “Longing for Eternity” — won’t be open right away because of social distancing rules. And that means a temporary end as well for The Broad’s ever-expanding standby line.