Museums have become the place where my husband and I go to be replenished spiritually. So whenever we can visit a new one, or revisit one that’s familiar, we jump at the chance. One year, after reading biographies of Matisse and developing a passion for his work, we pursued him when we visited several places on the East Coast, including the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia and the Baltimore Museum of Art’s extensive Matisse holdings. We weren’t disappointed. Nor have we been let down by the many other museums we’ve seen around the world.
I wish I could say the same for the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art that opened on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles. Billionaire philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad funded this new structure, and entry to the collection is free. Fees are only charged for special exhibits, such as the Cindy Sherman show that was there during our visit. However, visitors must obtain advance reservations if they don’t want to wait in long lines for admission.
We had booked for a recent Saturday at 5:30 PM and found parking easily in the garage beneath the structure. Unfortunately, the elevator deposited us outside the building, and a security guard told us we had to wait over a half hour in order to line up with our 5:30 group, and, no, there is no entry to the museum before then. Nor were there any seats outside, so we had to stand the whole time, making the wait annoying. My concern is what happens to the elderly and infirm, especially during colder weather. Even though it had been warm that afternoon, there now was a wind, and it wasn’t pleasant waiting outside in my sleeveless dress. If we wanted shelter and a place to sit down, we had to visit a neighborhood cafe.
By the time our line was allowed to enter, I had already developed a negative impression of this place. My time inside didn’t improve it much. Yes, the exterior honeycomb design is interesting and contributes to the filtered light the galleries receive. But compared to the exuberant architecture of the Walt Disney Concert Hall located across the street, the Broad is a poor cousin.
It does have a glass elevator, as well as an escalator, that takes viewers to the main galleries on the 3rd floor. They currently feature around 250 of the 2000 holdings (the second floor contains the remaining collection, but it’s not open for viewing). The first floor has a gallery that’s used for visiting exhibitions (that’s where Cindy Sherman was located) and the museum store. But no cafes reside inside the structure, and the first floor interior resembles a cave.
While there were numerous paintings on display we hadn’t seen before, many works had been shown at the Broad extension at LACMA years before. We enjoyed some of the pieces we hadn’t seen earlier, but the Broad is not a user-friendly space. There are very few benches in the huge galleries where visitors can both rest or just enjoy the paintings. This absence sends a cynical message that this particular museum is not designed for the art lover’s enjoyment. (We were made even more aware of this oversight when we stopped at the Getty museum a few days later. Plush, cushioned seats abound in its galleries, inviting viewers to relax and enjoy the art.) It feels more like another LA freeway: keep moving. Even the male and female bathrooms on the ground floor are a joke given the number of visitors this museum attracts. Each one contains three stalls. One sink. I had to stand in line to wash my hands after using a toilet.
It was generous of the Broads to create this space and not to charge admission. But overall, we found it a major disappointment. While the galleries are broad (spacious), the vision of what a modern museum should do—besides showing off its art—is narrow.