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Broad Power at LACMA

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Yesterday's LA Times explores the intricate relationship between LACMA’s biggest benefactor, billionaire Eli Broad, and the plans to revamp the most visible art establishment in Los Angeles.

Broad selected the architect (he chose Renzo Piano's plan after Rem Koolhaas’s tear-it-down-and-rebuild-it approach was scrapped) and organized a new board to manage acquisition monies and supervise construction. This decision-making power was granted in exchange for his pledge of $10 million to support LACMA’s collection and $50 million to help renovate the museum following years of frustrated attempts to overhaul the disjointed site.

LACMA head Andrea Rich justifies having relinquished substantial control over the undertaking by articulating her unconditional trust in Broad. Rich suggests that his wherewithal, resolve, connections, wealth, and taste squarely qualify him to see the project through. Those who are supportive about the donation and LACMA's rehab plan voiced their enthusiasm on the record, while critics “privately chastised the museum for giving Broad too much power without getting his collection.”

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The question of what motivates giving and art patronage becomes thornier with each passing age. It ain’t just for the glory of the Pope or the King anymore. Although not as shocking and salacious, this discussion calls to mind the scandal surrounding “Sensation,” the exhibition featuring ire-inducing works from Charles Saatchi’s collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999. LAist doesn’t predict any sort of dramatic mayoral showdown that would echo Giuliani’s anti-BMA stance, unless something along the lines of religious icons and animal dung make an appearance.

But advertising impresario/contemporary art patron Saatchi’s behind-the-scenes machinations and the contingencies Broad attached to his largess raise the ongoing issue of just how much muscle-flexing by major donors (who incidentally have large art collections of their own) is acceptable.

Broad, who also serves as co-chairman of the Grand Avenue Committee, is not one to donate quietly or anonymously, as evidenced by a quick Google search that highlights his numerous philanthropic exploits.