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Cracked Egg: BCAM's Inaugural Show 

Hello ... Wrong

Wednesday, Feb 13 2008

I'm so happy. Among a selection of generally enjoyable, often impressive works by artists including Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Cy Twombly, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Serra, Leon Golub, Susan Rothenberg, Jack Goldstein and others, two of my favorite works by two of my favorite artists are on view in the inaugural show at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), which opens to the public this Sunday on the campus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Unlike the vast majority of works in this exhibition, neither is on loan from either the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection or the Broad Art Foundation; both belong to LACMA.

Images courtesy LACMA/Broad Art Foundation

(Click to enlarge)

click to flip through (2) IMAGES COURTESY LACMA/BROAD ART FOUNDATION - Jeff Koons, Cracked Egg (Red) - (1994-2006)
  • Images courtesy LACMA/Broad Art Foundation
  • Jeff Koons, Cracked Egg (Red) (1994-2006)
 
 

Jeff Koons, Cracked Egg (Red) (1994-2006)

Images courtesy LACMA/Broad Art Foundation

(Click to enlarge)

Roy Lichtenstein, Cold Shoulder (1963)

The first is Roy Lichtenstein's painting Cold Shoulder from 1963. Stylistically, it's a signature Lichtenstein, but it's a quieter, more nagging image than is typical. A blond-locked lass in a cocktail dress and pearls turns away from the viewer and utters one word in a comic book speech bubble: "HELLO ..." The second work, produced by John Baldessari between 1966 and 1968, is a photo-emulsion print of the artist standing in front of a palm tree so that it looks as if the tree is growing out of his head. Beneath the image is the one-word cautionary declaration that is also the work's title: WRONG. It's a classic of California's goofy-foot version of Conceptual Art. It's also a one-image, one-word comedy about !@#$ing up when putting forth an image. In both age and sentiment, these two works could serve as mascots for this exhibition.

There are many terrific and important works at BCAM. But as an icebreaker exhibition for this museum, the selection of works is baffling. Speaking to the press last week, Eli Broad made it clear that he let the LACMA folks display whatever they wanted in BCAM's first outing, joking that the museum's director, Michael Govan, had taken everything in Broad's house. This only makes the selection stranger. There are a few possibilities here. One is that the exhibition represents a kind of wish list of what LACMA's leadership hoped might be coming their way in gifts. A second possibility is that the show reflects a new understanding of the Broad collections' destiny. If there is an upshot for L.A. and LACMA in the disclosure of this destiny, it is that LACMA already has been handed the keys to one of the largest contemporary-art spaces in the country, along with a housewarming gift of a major work by Serra. Meanwhile, one of the most important collections of late-20th- and early-21st-century art will continue to grow and to reside in Los Angeles, with works only temporarily loaned to institutions around the world, and with LACMA having something of a platinum-card membership in the lending library Broad has outlined.

If we're lucky, Broad, who has said he doesn't intend to build a personal museum, will replace or augment the Broad Art Foundation's four-story Santa Monica showcase building — which can display only a small glimpse of the collection for by-appointment viewing by arts professionals, scholars and groups of college students — with something in the vein of the Basel-based Schaulager. Home to the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation Collection, Schaulager's relatively small public exhibition space fronts a massive open storage facility where, without necessity of the extra infrastructure and real estate demanded by public access, all works in the collection are installed for the access of curators, scholars and conservators. BCAM's inaugural exhibition could show off the power and potential of what in one form or another will be a major house of culture in Los Angeles, and a reminder of LACMA's special relationship to it.

A third possibility is that the exhibition is intended as a tribute to the collecting savvy and commitment of the Broads, who, as the selection does reflect, have often bought well, and bought deep. The exhibition essentially includes a small, spotty survey of paintings from the '80s, most of it from New York, and a series of cherry-picked boutique shows and mini retrospectives.

But while any of these three options could logically explain how the show on view at BCAM took shape, none of them can sensibly explain an exhibition that reminds us that the two Broad collections, like their founders, are rich, powerful and influential, but that also makes them look dated, narrow, Americentric and oddly provincial. This exhibition would have made a nice wish list in terms of the value and historical importance of much of the work, but not for a museum looking toward the future and aiming for even greater status as an institution guided by a multicultural and international vision. Combined, the two Broad collections total around 2,000 works by more than 140 artists (both numbers are subject to change because the collections continue to evolve). The BCAM checklist totals 178 works by 28 artists, which doesn't include the wonderfully inventive grove of palm trees Robert Irwin has installed behind the building but does include an elevator-shaft installation by Barbara Kruger and Chris Burden's outdoor Urban Light installation, a work so brilliant that it just makes you want to forgive everything else.

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