On a gloomy winter afternoon, Los Angeles’s most powerful civic leader and richest man sprints his way through the Museo Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, just as the day before he sped through the Museo del Prado in Madrid, hurtling past centuries of Spanish art. Here, deep inside the Guggenheim, the Jasper Johnses, the Andy Warhols, and the Roy Lichtensteins he rushes by don’t claim his attention for more than 40 seconds. Why should they? He’s seen them all, and he’ll have plenty of time to spend with them come September, when they’ll be shipped back to his house in Brentwood and his retreat in Malibu. On the other hand, almost anyone else would savor this moment—the chance of seeing, for the first time, one’s personal art collection filling to half its capacity what has become the world’s most celebrated museum. But not Eli Broad. He’s racing through the galleries, and he can only see what’s wrong.
Broad has traveled to Spain with his wife, Edythe, and his close friends Richard Riordan and Nancy Daly Riordan. The trip began a week earlier in Havana and will end in a few days on the slopes of Saint Moritz, but its high point is this evening’s gala opening of Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collections at the Guggenheim. Riordan has skipped the afternoon preview for a jog (“Gotta stay fit!” the former mayor says). Edye Broad has decided to remain in her hotel room for an hour free of her husband’s hyperactivity. So Broad’s entourage has been pared down to Joanne Heyler, the curator of his collection; Rockwell Schnabel, Broad’s former Westside neighbor and the American ambassador to the European Union; and Nancy Riordan.
Even when Broad sits still he thrusts forward. A full head of silver hair reigns over a robust face bronzed by decades of reading corporate documents in the California sun. The ears are prominent like conches, the eyes sharp behind stylish silver-rimmed glasses. Broad rarely breaks into a smile, but when he does it is one of controlled satisfaction, the top teeth visible in an even row. A slight paunch, which is easily concealed beneath the cut of a Zegna or Brioni suit, has taken up residence on the otherwise lean body. Although he is about to turn 70, Broad looks 15 years younger but sounds 15 years older. His voice is the importunate, high-pitched yawp of a prospector who never learned the value of patience and isn’t about to start now.
Broad’s taste in art tends to the massive and the assertive—for instance, the 60-ton Richard Serra sculpture called No Problem that sits on his lawn in Brentwood. In the Guggenheim’s cavernous spaces, the pieces breathe in a way they didn’t at their previous stop, Washington’s Corcoran Gallery. Yet Broad has some problems with the exhibition. Why are Cindy Sherman’s photographs spaced apart so widely? he asks Joanne Heyler. They look lost, Broad insists, his mouth a tight frown. Why is every panel in the Eric Fischl piece identified by a separate card, as if they’re all individual paintings? “Well,” his curator gently tells him, “the viewers here will have some trouble with the translation.”
Eli Broad has always had a temperamental inability to accept what he calls “the status quo.” His drive to prove wrong the “fat, dumb, and happy” businessmen of his era led to his creation of two Fortune 500 companies—Kaufman & Broad, the mammoth international home builder, and SunAmerica, the insurance conglomerate that was the fastest-growing stock on the New York Stock Exchange for much of the 1990s. At 23, with his partner Donald Kaufman, Broad revolutionized the home-building industry, turning the single-family residence into a mass commodity like any other; his company, now called KB Home, has built 500,000 of them. Broad went on to give the life insurance industry just as heavy a beating. Why were insurers still selling policies against an early death, when Broad’s scrutiny of demographics showed that the true catastrophic threat facing baby boomers was a prolonged life that outlasted one’s savings? Out of a century-old insurance company he built an annuities empire, selling policies that paid out as long as the bearer’s heart kept beating. When he sold SunAmerica in 1998 to insurance giant AIG, Broad had amassed the largest fortune in L.A., estimated today at $4.8 billion.
In the past 20 years, no private citizen has exerted more influence on Los Angeles. Broad helped pay for the television commercials and mass mailers that crushed the San Fernando Valley secession movement. During the campaign last year, he became a more articulate spokesman for keeping the city united than Mayor James Hahn.
The city may have proved to be a less than ideal laboratory for Broad’s bid to reform public education, but he and Riordan did for a time manage to secure a majority on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s board that was amenable to their credo of top-down managerial reform. While cohosting the 2000 Democratic Convention, Broad suggested to former Colorado governor Roy Romer that he apply for the job of LAUSD superintendent; later he sat on the search committee that selected Romer. Before the new superintendent and his reform board were installed, the district hadn’t built a new high school in 30 years. Today, 20 schools have broken ground, funded by a $3.3 billion construction bond measure. Broad gave $200,000 toward its passage.
Recently he contributed $20 million to UCLA to rebuild its fine arts complex, which will be renamed the Edythe and Eli Broad Art Center, and he was the leading donor to Caltech’s $100 million Broad Center for the Biological Sciences, which opened last fall. The two buildings are companion pieces to the Edythe and Eli Broad Studios at California Institute for the Arts and the Edythe and Eli Broad Center at Pitzer College.
Broad’s greatest impact has been felt by Los Angeles’s long-neglected downtown. In 1979, he presided over the creation of the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue. Although Grand may be one of the city’s most pedestrian-averse thoroughfares, Broad has enlisted the city, county, and state to reimagine it as a direct competitor to New York’s Broadway—with expanded sidewalks, shops, theaters, and restaurants, and maybe a central park stretching from the Department of Water and Power headquarters to City Hall. To replace the California Transportation Agency’s 1940s concrete bunker, Broad organized the first design competition in the agency’s history; the winner was the Richard Neutra-inspired scheme of architect Thom Mayne. Broad cemented his reputation as the city’s cultural rainmaker when in 1996 he led the rescue of Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall with a $135 million fund-raising campaign. It is now an article of faith that when Gehry’s sculptural stainless-steel concert hall opens in the fall, it will give this shapeless city its unifying symbol, that it will have the same transformative effect on Los Angeles that Gehry’s Guggenheim had on Bilbao.
Architect Frank Gehry. Photograph courtesy wikipedia.org
At the Guggenheim, Broad charges ahead and takes a sharp right. Heyler tries to call him back, but Broad, oblivious, sweeps through the next four galleries in the wrong direction. Entering a room full of Charles Ray pieces, he winces at the first thing he sees—a nude department store dummy. He is not upset by its faithful reproduction of the artist’s genitalia but by the awkward placement of what should have been the room’s centerpiece—an eight-foot mannequin in a hot pink power suit. It’s the same situation when he reaches the Jeff Koons room. Had Broad approached from the front entrance, he would have seen its most significant work, Koons’s enormous blue steel Balloon Dog, from a long way off. Instead, another Koons piece, a small stainless-steel rabbit, is bothering him. “Why is the bunny over here?” Broad demands. “Why isn’t it over there?”
Nancy Riordan, cheerful and overwhelmed by all the art around her, has not kept pace with Broad and so is not privy to his displeasure. She can hardly imagine how Broad must feel. How large the sense of accomplishment must be, how rewarding his triumph as a collector, how inconceivable the trajectory that led him from a working-class childhood in Detroit to world-class stature in Bilbao. “Isn’t it fabulous?” she asks. “Who would have thunk it?”
Eli Broad did not come to Los Angeles to reinvent himself. Arriving in 1963, he was a lot more like those prewar Iowans who poured in by the thousands, determined not to cut their roots away but transplant them in L.A. soil, where, after all, anything can be made to grow. Broad likes to tell why he settled in Brentwood and why he’s remained there ever since. “At the time,” he says, “Bel-Air was out of our league, and for raising a family, we thought that Beverly Hills was a little too glitzy.”
Barry Munitz, president of the Getty Trust, who considers Broad a good friend, speculates that if you asked a dozen people to write down what they thought a quintessential Angeleno was and put their responses in an envelope, “I don’t think Eli would fit one out of ten of the criteria. I mean, his pace is different. His values are different. His upbringing is different. His commitments are different. He doesn’t do the movies. The last word you’d ever use to describe him is ‘Hollywood.’ I don’t think he’s a typical Los Angeles person at all except in the sense that he has this extraordinarily flexible optimism.”
Still, an argument can be made that Broad is the quintessential Angeleno circa 1937. Like the downtown clique who ruled Los Angeles for the first half of the 20th century, he prides himself on sober values, and like many of its members, he made his fortune in the sober fields of home building and insurance. He, too, sees the city’s health as inseparable from downtown’s, even as his own business, like theirs, has been instrumental in the mass flight of people and jobs from the center.
Los Angeles resists the concentration of civic power as violently as it resists any other centripetal force. Unlike New York or Chicago, the city did not form around a harbor or lakefront. If by the 1920s Los Angeles boasted the largest streetcar system in the world, the city sorely needed it. Population, industry, exploitation of the land—everything that had made Manhattan a dense fortress of office towers, tenements, and factories was in L.A.’s case spreading toward the margins faster than schools and utilities and sewage systems could be built, faster than the city could annex these new sources of tax revenue.
Before World War II the entity that was most responsible for this chaotic growth, and profited the most from it, was the business elite that ruled from downtown—Harry Chandler, Moses Sherman, L.C. Brand, and others. Spring Street’s banks provided the financing, its real estate developers subdivided thousands of acres of former scrub and orange groves for suburban home owners, and oil companies like General Petroleum and streetcar magnates like Henry Huntington supplied the transportation. When the city’s expansion outpaced its water supply, the Chandler-owned Los Angeles Times drummed up support for an aqueduct. Threatening to turn off the water, the city swallowed formerly independent regions from Eagle Rock to Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley, which extended downtown’s political and economic reach. As their power accrued, these men handpicked mayors and congressmen and implemented their own vision of cultural good—City Hall, the Central Library, the Hollywood Bowl. By the mid-1950s, the downtown elite had consolidated itself as the Committee of 25 under the leadership of Pacific Mutual Insurance Company president Asa Call. “At that time there was a greater ability to mobilize business support for charitable causes and civic causes,” says former secretary of state and longtime civic leader Warren Christopher, “because it was a more concentrated business arena.”
Republican, anti-union, and overwhelmingly Protestant, the city’s leaders toned down their anti-Semitism and distaste for the entertainment industry only in dire emergencies, as when they recruited MGM chief Louis B. Mayer to defeat Upton Sinclair’s Socialist bid for governor in 1934. But mostly, they kept Jews away from their tables at the California and Jonathan Clubs, where much of the city’s business was conducted.
The sprawl that the committee members had done so much to encourage ultimately gutted downtown’s vitality and weakened their hold. They did everything they could to keep the city’s ossifying political structure intact. When Dorothy Chandler enlisted the Jewish Westside to build the Music Center in 1964, the effort was celebrated as a new era of cooperation between L.A.’s downtown establishment and Hollywood. It was also a signal of decline. A generation before, downtown’s elite would have had no need for any outside help.
By the late ’70s, Los Angeles had grown well beyond a centralized business core and any Committee of 25. The city was all fragments—hundreds of communities that had nothing much to do with one another, cut off by geography and riven by race and class. Even in Asa Call’s day, L.A. had ranked low in philanthropic commitment, but now the most dominant economic force—the entertainment industry—had less civic capital invested in the city of Los Angeles than the developers, the insurers, and the oil companies it supplanted. Such was the civic vacuum that Broad stepped into.
There are some differences between Broad and his predecessors. Unlike them, Broad is Jewish and a moderate Democrat. After co-hosting the 2000 convention, he emerged as an influential enough presence in the party that any aspiring Democratic presidential candidate stopping in L.A. this year would be interested in gaining access to the power, money, and contacts his endorsement brings. Arriving in L.A. when downtown was already deteriorating, Broad established his home and both his businesses on the Westside. He’s also, compared with the city’s former rulers, less motivated by economic self-interest. One could never imagine Harry Chandler standing before a crowd of mortgage brokers, as Broad did recently in San Diego, and denouncing a $726 billion federal tax cut as a ludicrous economic stimulus because it was going mostly to the wealthy like himself and no amount of tax cutting was going to change the way he spent his money.
Broad’s L.A. is not the citadel of privilege that Call’s was. “Los Angeles is a meritocracy,” Broad says. “It’s one of the few cities you can move to without the right family background, the right religious background, the right political background, and if you work hard and have good ideas, you’re accepted.”
Broad’s discovery of contemporary art can be traced to an original Toulouse-Lautrec poster that Edye Broad bought in 1963. “Eli traveled a lot,” Edye says, “and when he’d go on a trip, I’d buy a piece of art—works on paper, prints—and then I’d show him what I got. He’d say, ‘That’s nice, that’s fine.’ ” The poster elicited a different response. “All of a sudden he recognized the name, and he said, ‘Oh, God, where did you get it? How much did it cost?’ Then he got a little interested. It was like, ‘What are you doing?’ Whereas before, it was an accessory.”
The Broads’ first major acquisition, in 1972, was a Vincent van Gogh drawing of Arles. Not too long after, Broad decided that the collection should focus on American and German contemporary artists. “Getting to meet the artists and curators,” he says. “I found this rather broadening, educational, and interesting.”
While Toulouse-Lautrec drew him into art, MCA executive and collector Taft Schreiber drew him into the art world. “I met Taft politically,” Broad says. “He was very close to Nixon. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with George McGovern as the 1972 Democratic nominee, so with Governor John Connelly, I became cochair of Democrats for Nixon, which I hate to admit to.” Schreiber, who helped found the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, introduced Broad to museum directors, to dealers in New York and Europe, and to collectors like actor Edward G. Robinson and industrialist Leigh Block.
Broad’s interest in art led him to his first civic crusade. In May 1979, a group that included downtown developer Ira Yellin, lawyer William Norris, art collector Marcia Weisman, and artist Robert Irwin had joined a mayor’s advisory committee to explore establishing a museum devoted to contemporary art. “We kept hearing over the years,” says Broad, “how L.A. didn’t have a contemporary art museum like New York, Boston, and Chicago, even though we had the second-largest population of working artists. A lot of people who were saying these things were long on ideas and short on money.” As one of the region’s largest developers, Broad was aware of the plans to build office towers on Bunker Hill. Broad says he was aware, too, that developers would be obligated to devote one and a half percent of a project’s value to fund public art. “I said, ‘Gee, this is going to be a billion-dollar project. Maybe we can take the $15 million and pool together the $15 million and build a museum instead.’ I went to Mayor Tom Bradley, and he loved the idea.”
As great as Broad’s role at MOCA was, he exaggerates it in the retelling. According to several participants, William Norris didn’t invite Broad to get involved until Labor Day 1979. By that time, L.A.’s Community Redevelopment Agency had already approached Norris’s committee with the unorthodox idea of consolidating Bunker Hill’s arts levy for MOCA’s benefit. In December 1979, Broad and computer pioneer Max Palevsky each made contributions of $1 million. Broad became MOCA’s founding chairman; Palevsky chaired the architectural search committee.
The early days of MOCA were turbulent. There were threatened firings, ultimatums, and fistfights. Although Palevsky chose Arata Isozaki to design MOCA’s building, he later quit the board when it refused to dismiss the Japanese architect, and sued to get his money back. “My days as an innocent collector came to an end,” Broad says, “when I got involved with MOCA.”
Broad’s approach at MOCA became a template for his subsequent civic ventures. He had no patience for the expertise of experts; he believed that his vision carried as much validity, if not more, than theirs. As none of his colleagues or subordinates could claim the mastery of finance he possessed, the only rational plan had to be his; to diverge from it would be irresponsible. He would infuriate many of the artists and art lovers he led; he made few friends among them and more than a few enemies, but in the end, few could deny that the same cajoling and bullying and unwillingness to compromise that so offended them had also broken down many obstacles to MOCA’s creation.
“There’s a level at which an outsized ambition is the only way to achieve something extraordinary,” says Sherri Geldin, director of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, who was MOCA’s first employee and later an associate director. “I think anyone would say that Eli has outsized ambitions in everything he undertakes.”
“Eli was certainly effective,” says another early MOCA champion, “but he did not do all these things himself. That’s where he runs amok with people, because people don’t enjoy working diligently on a project and not getting credit.”
As in all of the crusades that would follow, Broad’s battle for MOCA was also a battle against the East Coast media’s anti-L.A. bias: its disdain for what it sees as the city’s fundamental frivolity; its lack of civic will and social cohesion; its view of L.A. not as a meritocracy but as a hothouse where rogues, boors, and buffoons are the fiercest bloomers. Broad railed against this characterization, but he embraced the criteria by which L.A.’s detractors decided what makes a city great. He went about building an institution on their terms.
“I didn’t want MOCA to be a provincial museum,” Broad says. “I wanted it to be a national or international museum. In order to do that, we had to overfly New York. We had to get a director of international note, and we recruited—primarily, I recruited—Pontus Hulten, a Swede, who had been running the Beaubourg Museum in Paris.” It was hard to dismiss an institution that had a star like Hulten. “I recall getting a call from John Russell of The New York Times,” Broad says, “who was more than surprised that we could get Pontus Hulten.”
As it turned out, Hulten was a poor fit. “Pontus in Paris had one boss—the minister of culture,” Broad says. “He was not happy working for a board of trustees.” Although Broad says he had no personal disputes with Hulten, Geldin remembers differently. “Pontus was so esteemed in the international art world that he wasn’t accustomed to being second-guessed,” she says, “and it’s in Eli Broad’s nature to second-guess everything and everyone, regardless of your position in the world. There were times when Eli felt that his notion of what the museum should be and aspire to be was paramount and should take precedence over Pontus.” After two years Hulten was gone, and his deputy director, Richard Koshalek, took his place.
What secured MOCA’s reputation was not its permanent collection or the museum design by Japan’s most famous living architect but what some called “the folly of the staff.” As Broad’s board raised money and debated Isozaki’s design, Geldin took a look at a grease-smeared LAPD garage and former hardware store that the city was offering for a dollar a year, a temporary space for temporary exhibitions that would at least provide the museum with some presence until a real museum and real collection could be built.
“It was a superb space for contemporary art,” Sherri Geldin says. “It had a vibrancy and vitality about it that was unequaled in the United States.” There was never any question in the staff’s mind about which local architect should reconfigure it as a museum. “Frank Gehry always disparages himself about it,” Geldin says. “He talks about himself as a janitor of that building.” Opened in 1983, the Temporary Contemporary has inspired the reclamation of abandoned buildings for major museums, such as London’s Tate Modern, housed in a former factory and Paris’s Musee d’Orsay, which fills an obsolete train terminal. Now named the Geffen Contemporary, it was Gehry’s first museum commission. Unlike the Isozaki building, with its de rigueur plaza and purist planes, it doesn’t submit to the staid dictates of the New York art world but sets terms for contemporary art that are L.A.’s own, juxtaposing the abandoned past and a fragmented future.
Broad stepped down as MOCA’s chairman in 1988. He admits his style didn’t win him many friends during his 13 years there. “I was tough,” Broad says. “I was fiscally tough and so on. Very young staff, like Sherri Geldin, weren’t used to working in a more mature environment. You had various trustees that were very soft, that the staff liked a lot more than they liked me. But I wouldn’t say it was contentious.” Others would. Reached in San Diego, artist Robert Irwin doesn’t want to talk about Broad “because I have nothing nice to say.”
During their time together at the museum, Broad once gave Koshalek some management advice. “He said, ‘Richard, always hire someone with an expansive ego,’ ” Koshalek remembers. “I said, ‘Why? Many times they’re difficult to deal with.’ He said, ‘Yes, but there’s too much at risk for them to fail.’ Does Eli have a large ego? Yes. Is it a plus and a minus? Yes. But because he has a large ego, he doesn’t want failure to be a part of his agenda.”
“My mother’s name was Rebecca, but they called her Rita. Don’t ask me why,” Broad tells me one afternoon. We are flying over Simi Valley in his Gulfstream en route to San Francisco, where he’ll receive an award for his work in education. Stretching below us are hundreds of identical stucco houses squeezed onto tight lots—classic Kaufman & Broad. “My father was named Louis, but they called him Leon. Don’t ask me why either.”
Rita and Leon Broad were Jewish émigré from Lithuania who met in New York City. “I loved both my parents,” Broad says, “but I think I had a higher regard and respect for my mother. She was a very virtuous person in every sense. In fact, just as an aside, if you read their tombstones, I put down NO ONE EVER HAD A BETTER MOTHER, and I really believe it, and on my father’s it said HE LOVED LIFE … I’m trying to remember it. He really loved life, and my mother was more serious.”
In a sepia photograph, taken when Broad was about five, Leon, a wide-eyed, tight coil of energy, seems like he could be 17 years old, while Rita—the heaviness of her face accentuated by her thick, curly hair and horn-rimmed glasses—looks every bit 40. Broad stands between them. “My father’s side,” Broad says, “was very outgoing, poor, aggressive, and entrepreneurial.” It was a tradition Leon carried on when he moved the family from the Bronx to Detroit and opened a couple of five-and-dime stores. His mother, by contrast, “was very disciplined, more conservative and so on. She was not a risk taker. My father was a big risk taker.”
As a child Leon Broad had been separated from his parents and become a mascot of the Lithuanian army, shining boots. “You know, that must have been very scary,” Edye Broad says, recalling her father-in-law. “He had to survive on his instincts, and I guess he figured later, ‘You don’t know what’s going to happen to you. Maybe you should enjoy yourself.’ Eli’s father had a tremendous amount of energy, and I think Eli did get that from his father. But his father was more of a tummler. He loved having people over. I remember he’d have people over, and they’d sing songs.”
I ask Broad if he learned anything about getting enjoyment out of life from his father. “Ah,” he begins. “In fact, there were times I thought he had too much enjoyment. My mother worked harder at the store than he did. He’d be with his friends, and on occasion, he’d go to the racetrack.”
For Leon, his five-and-dime on Davidson Street was a step up, but the second-floor duplex the family occupied in northwest Detroit represented a decline in Rita’s fortunes. “Eli’s mother,” Edye continues, “was raised in a family where they had a live-in tutor. They were well-off, and when they came from Lithuania to the United States they came first-class, of course, but when they got here they didn’t have any money because their money was useless.”
Among Broad’s friends at Detroit’s Central High, his destiny was never in doubt. “It was very obvious when we were kids that Eli was a cut above every other person in terms of intelligence,” says his schoolmate Burt Binder, who remains his best friend. “We used to say how Eli was going to be a millionaire, although we didn’t know what that was.”
Edye talks about the day in 1953 when, as a 17-year-old, she answered the hallway phone and found herself listening to a boy she didn’t even know asking her out on a date, who had gotten her number from another boy she didn’t remember, who had met her when she was on another date some months back that had been just as forgettable as this one was probably going to be. Had her mother not been nosing around in the kitchen nearby, Edye might have told Eli Broad no thanks. “If she heard me turning down a date,” Edye says, “after I got off the phone it would be, ‘You’re a young girl. You should be out dating, and when a nice boy asks you out, how do you know you won’t like him?’ And so on. It was easier to say yes than to listen to my mother with her routine again.”
When Broad picked her up, Edye carefully chose their destination. “We went to a drive-in to get coffee,” she says. “You know, the kind of place you go if you didn’t want to get stuck with somebody who was awful.” Broad was unusual. Most of the boys Edye dated were still in high school, or, if they were in college, they were out having fun. Broad was working three jobs; he was about to take the state exam to become the youngest CPA in Michigan history. He told her how he had given up pre-law because he knew he didn’t have the patience to make it through the program. “I don’t want to be in school anymore,” he said. “I want to get out and get going and make money.” They had dated for a year and a half when he outlined their future together. “He started telling me, I guess, about what he wanted, what he thought he could do and what kind of life he would like to have. That he would like to be married and have a family. That we would eventually have a house and be able to take a vacation and have two cars. You know, he had it all planned. It sounded pretty good. It beat what I had—living at home and going to college.”
Restless as a junior accountant, Broad decided to open his own firm. The husband of a cousin of Edye’s, Donald Kaufman, offered him free office space. In return, Broad volunteered to do his books. Nine years older, Kaufman was already a successful developer, identifying empty city lots and building homes that fit in so naturally, they seemed always to have been part of the neighborhood. He also did a brisk business in additions—extra bedrooms, a den, a second floor. Kaufman was a burly outdoorsman and a bit of a daredevil—a dirt-bike racer, sky diver, scuba diver, and airplane pilot.
Broad came equipped with his critique about everything that was wrong with the home-building industry, but he knew nothing about building houses. In 1957, Kaufman agreed, on a handshake, to accept Broad as a partner, and committed half the capital to put up two model homes in a northeast Detroit suburb. Broad borrowed $25,000 from Edye’s parents for his own stake in what became Kaufman & Broad. They called their model “the Award Winner.” Kaufman came up with the design, which did away with a basement and a garage in favor of an above-ground slab and a carport, while Broad handled land acquisition and materials. The house cost a few thousand dollars less than their competitors’, and after only one weekend, 17 were spoken for.
Within two years Kaufman & Broad, applying the methods of mass manufacture, built 600 houses in the Detroit suburbs. “It was like the Japanese auto industry versus America’s in the ’70s,” Broad says. “Our competitors thought they knew it all and we young whippersnappers were going to go broke.” Kaufman & Broad would put up a dozen houses in as little as six weeks, minimizing bank loans. Although Broad made many suppliers and subcontractors rich through the sheer quantity of his business, few who sat across a negotiating table from him would mistake him for their friend. Nor would Kaufman & Broad customers be burdened with functioning shutters or solid oak doors or any other frill that drove up the price. “I remember staying up many nights, going over everything,” Broad says. “I watched every penny. It didn’t come down to counting every nail—but very close.”
In 1960, Broad and Kaufman moved the company to Phoenix. Detroit housing starts, they had concluded, were too dependent on the fortunes of the auto industry, while in the Sun Belt, population was expanding exponentially. By 1963, the year Kaufman retired and left him in sole control, Broad was a multimillionaire and had emerged as the industry’s de facto ambassador to Wall Street.
Broad had considered moving to Los Angeles directly from Detroit, but on his early visits the city had repelled him for the same reason it would provide fertile ground for his business. “L.A. was frightening because I couldn’t understand it,” Broad says. “It was huge—100 miles across, 100 miles wide, and so on. It was 100 suburbs in search of a city.” Phoenix, too, was growing rapidly, but at least “you knew where downtown was.”
While in Phoenix, Broad built the Continental Apartments in Huntington Beach, attached town houses that were far cheaper than the typical L.A. starter home. Kaufman & Broad sold 760 in five weeks. After two years in Arizona, Broad moved his wife and two young sons to Los Angeles.
Although he loved to build a company, Broad tired of overseeing the day-to-day operations. In 1974, Broad stepped down as CEO to dedicate himself to the arts and education, but he returned the following year to steer the company through a brutal recession. In the early ’70s, he had purchased the 100-year-old Sun Life Insurance Company of Baltimore and later hired his neighbor, corporate turnaround artist Sanford Sigoloff, to run Kaufman & Broad as vice chairman and COO. In 1986, Broad spun off Kaufman & Broad’s insurance business and began creating what became his second Fortune 500 company, the annuities conglomerate called SunAmerica.
Jay Wintrob, now SunAmerica’s CEO, was hired as assistant to the chairman in 1986 when Broad began amassing the company through expansion and acquisitions. Wintrob brought to the job five years’ merger experience with a corporate law firm, but in all the deals he had witnessed, he’d never observed anything like Broad’s iron self-control. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get caught up in the emotion of a situation or the momentum that builds from any kind of commercial transaction,” Wintrob says. “At some point, people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They’re just doing it. That’s not Eli.”
Broad exercised the same superhuman discipline in his greatest transaction—the 1998 sale of SunAmerica to the AIG insurance group. The deal earned him $3 billion. Two years later Broad relocated from Century City to his new foundation headquarters near Westwood.
His scope was now national. Placing $400 million at his own charitable disposal, he started the Broad Medical Foundation, the Broad Foundation for Foster Care Reform, and most important to him, the Broad Foundation for Public Education. He set up a $1 million Broad Prize to reward outstanding urban school districts every year. Graduates of his Broad Center for Superintendents—the former corporate executives, military commanders, and career educators who were recruited as Broad fellows—began to take over districts from Albuquerque to Providence. Having left business altogether to confront the problems of American society, Broad was now, by his own definition, a “venture philanthropist.”
Eli Broad is taking drink orders on the one-hour flight from Madrid to Bilbao. “Do you want water or coffee?” he asks, the steward in his own Gulfstream. “How do you want it? Black?”
“Both—but not both black,” Richard Riordan replies, filling the cabin with a chuckle.
As L.A.’s premier power couple, they are a mismatch: Democrat Broad, the financial dynamo and master builder, tightly wound and circumspect, incapable of furthering his cause with small talk or a judiciously timed pat on the back; and Republican Riordan, the corporate lawyer and venture capitalist, the comedian manqué who ran for mayor in 1993 on the slogan “Tough enough to turn L.A. around” but disarmed his political opponents by playing the role as grandfatherly softy.
As city leaders, Broad and Riordan have enjoyed very different rewards. “Dick’s someone who’s truly loved,” Broad once told me, “whereas I’m someone who’s far more respected than loved.” Would Broad like to be loved? “It would be nice,” he said, “but I’m more single-minded. I’m more interested in getting things done in the civic arena, more concerned with that than if I made a thousand new friends.”
The two met in the mid-’70s, when Broad was chairman of the board of Pitzer College. One of his trustees introduced him to Riordan, a dealmaker who couched his determination and temper in blarney. Broad brought him onto the Pitzer board and then onto the Kaufman & Broad board. “Dick was divorced,” says Broad, “and we’d go skiing together in Utah. He was courting Nancy at the time, so we were socializing man-to-man. Then it became couples.”
In 1992, Broad was at a dinner party when Riordan announced he was planning to run for mayor. “Like everybody else,” Riordan says, “Eli referred me to a psychiatrist.” No sooner had Riordan taken his oath than he appointed Broad to examine the city’s finances. After a breakneck analysis of the books, Riordan says, Broad found a way to save $300 million a year. Although the mayor recruited many businessmen to his inner circle, “Eli was the superstar.”
“Eli takes a snapshot and puts it into his brain,” Riordan says, “and he can dig into it anytime he wants to. I call it Deep Blue, like the first computer to beat a world chess champion. I have a lot of discipline, but I’ll pass problems on to others and go on to the next one, whereas Eli will stay with it. That’s why he’s wealthier. Heh, heh, heh.”
In the front of the cabin, Broad looks up from his Wall Street Journal at the sound of Riordan’s laughter. “I sent you to the wrong place,” he says.
“Right. I’m just telling him all these bad things about you,” Riordan says. “Hey, Eli!”
“You would be on the World Cup team—wouldn’t you be a World Cup skiing competitor if you weren’t a businessman?”
“Oh,” Broad says, “I don’t think so.”
“Actually,” Riordan says when Broad turns back to his paper, “he skis shittily. No, actually he’s a good middle-of-the-road skier, and at biking, he’s a middle biker. But he’s an A hiker.” Every Sunday the two tackle the Santa Monica Mountains together, Broad storming up trails the way he storms through museums. “When we come to a great vista,” Riordan says, “do you want to know the truth? He’ll stop for about one second and just keep walking. Maybe Eli can smell the roses faster than the rest of us.”
Broad and Riordan rue the lack of commitment within their privileged class, but L.A.’s vacuum has afforded them a certain luxury, a certain freedom of movement that a more engaged city might have denied them. There are no entrenched elites to contend with, no one with comparable wealth and influence interested enough in the city to oppose their ideas. For the money and energy they have poured into their civic work they have received large dividends. They won two terms at city hall for Riordan. They charted the revival of downtown, centered on the civic monuments of Grand Avenue (Broadway to the east, with its historic theaters and vibrant shopping, commanded little of their interest). They reformed L.A.’s business practices along business-friendly lines and by passing a new city charter, fortified the role of mayor. Through their Coalition for Kids they bankrolled, for a time, a majority on the LAUSD board that was sympathetic to their prescription of corporate-style governance and hard bargaining with the teachers union. But the most enduring monument to their partnership is Disney Hall.
In 1988, Walt Disney’s widow, Lillian, donated $50 million for a new symphony hall to be designed by Frank Gehry. Eight years later the L.A. Philharmonic’s future home was still just an asphalt pad above a parking structure. With no new donors and the cost spiraling to $272 million, the Music Center of Los Angeles County, which was overseeing the project, had put it on hold. “It was going to die a slow and natural death,” says Andrea Van de Kamp, the recently retired chair of the Music Center board.
But not a quiet one. Just as the eastern media had heralded the announcement of Disney Hall as a signal of the city’s coming of cultural age, it now reported the project’s demise as just one more confirmation of the city’s provincialism. Not only New York and Chicago but Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and other cities with a fraction of L.A.’s population and a tenth of its wealth had made the philanthropic commitment to build their new monuments. Bilbao, the beleaguered cultural backwater of Spain’s Basque country, had found the wherewithal to erect Gehry’s Guggenheim in three years, while Gehry’s own city had dawdled its project to near extinction.
In the spring of 1996, Gehry and Diane Disney Miller, Lillian Disney’s daughter, paid a visit to the mayor, asking for help to salvage the hall. “I told them,” Riordan recalls, “’there’s only one person who can make this happen, and that’s Eli Broad.” He immediately put Broad on speakerphone, and soon enough “he was hooked.”
Broad didn’t take long to size up the mess and its cause—the absence of a single, determined patron in charge. “It was like everyone in the symphony was demanding everything they ever wanted,” Broad says, “and there was no one on top saying ‘Wait a minute—what’s that going to cost?’ There were a lot of people involved, including Lillian Disney’s daughter, who thought Frank Gehry’s great. I think he’s great also, but he could have been greater if there had been a strong client he could have worked with.”
A few years earlier, Gehry had found Broad too strong a client while designing his new house in Brentwood. The city’s leading art collector and greatest architect locked horns. Broad, who had built houses in 40 days, chafed at Gehry’s creative process, which consumed years, and Gehry struggled against Broad’s need for control. Broad finished the residence without him, and Gehry repudiated it, refused ever to set foot in it, and excluded it from a book of his complete works. Gehry and Broad’s feud threatened to be reenacted on the stage of Disney Hall, but even Broad’s detractors admit that the project would have collapsed without his fund-raising.
“Disney Hall had been on the cover of The New York Times Magazine and all these architectural journals,” Broad says, “and if we didn’t get this done, it would show everything that was wrong with Los Angeles, with its political leadership, civic leadership, corporate leadership, et cetera.” Once Broad took over, all the consultants the Music Center had hired, all the gim-crackery they had employed—like giveaway Disney Hall jelly bean boxes—had to go. “I thought, ‘We don’t need any of that stuff,’ ” says Broad. “ ‘This is going to require hard work by myself and the mayor, making lots of calls, giving speeches, holding lots of meetings.’”
After Broad and Riordan each committed $5 million to Disney Hall, Broad called Mike Bowlin, the CEO of oil giant ARCO. He knew Bowlin from a business advisory committee they’d both served on. “We talked about how a piece of architecture could become a rallying point for people to work together, which it did become,” Broad says. “I think fairly promptly, Bowlin agreed to go for ten million bucks. He only did it because the mayor and I were involved.”
From his retirement ranch in Texas, Bowlin confirms as much. “It wasn’t the best of economic times for our industry,” he says. “But as a company we felt, at Eli’s urging and from our own knowledge, that this was to be a very important institution, that it was very important it be completed.”
Broad then won a $15 million commitment from Ralphs and Food 4 Less magnate Ron Burkle, and $5 million apiece from Times Mirror, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. The largest single donation, though—$25 million from the Walt Disney Company—was brought in not by Broad but by Andrea Van de Kamp, who was a Disney board member. By July 1998, when Broad stepped down as chief fund-raiser, Disney Hall’s future was secure.
Walt Disney Concert Hall. Photograph by Carol Highsmith/courtesy wikipedia.org
Broad will tell you that he concerns himself only with the results, and in this case, who could argue with them? The stainless-steel landmark may well turn out to be L.A.’s Sydney Opera House or Eiffel Tower, the city’s greatest would-be debacle debuting this fall as its greatest triumph. But Disney Hall revealed the limits of Broad’s brand of leadership. As he steamrolled ahead with his own agenda, those with other ideas had to get out of the way or be flattened. Broad had taken a chief executive’s control of a damaged enterprise and turned it around by dint of his own connections, wealth, and drive, but while he was building Disney Hall’s equity, he wasn’t building a lasting coalition. Among others who cared about Disney Hall at least as deeply as he did, he reaped hostility as much as admiration. If Broad had no need of allies in the Disney Hall fight, if all the effort required was hard work by Broad and Riordan and no one else, why should anyone reunite with him in future causes?
Asked to name others who rose to the occasion for Disney Hall, Broad mentions Van de Kamp, who has the virtue of being a former subordinate. “She worked for me as my development director when I was founding chairman of MOCA,” he says. “She was not involved in any of the initial meetings with the mayor and the county and so on, but she came on board, did some pretty good work, and was responsible for the Disney gift.” Other than Van de Kamp, Broad thanks Riordan and the donors who answered his call.
Broad had certainly made his case to the international press, which lauded him as Disney Hall’s savior, the one person with the determination and the power to bring Los Angeles out of its cultural adolescence. At his office, Broad has a six-inch-thick binder filled with accolades. The flattering accounts, however, hide another story about Disney Hall—one not of a great man but of the kind of concerted effort many complain L.A. is no longer capable of, an effort in which Broad was a vital part, but only a part.
“If you were a Frank Gehry,” asks one of Disney Hall’s champions, who wished not to be named, “and donated a lot of your time while you were the hottest architect in the world, how would you feel about an article that says Eli Broad did it? Or Diane Disney Miller, who stayed by her mother’s wishes—how do you think she’s going to feel?”
The physical fact of Disney Hall, in Broad’s view, surmounts any hurts inflicted along the way—even between him and its architect. “All’s well that ends well,” Broad says. “I think Frank Gehry did a great job for Disney Hall. He did a great job everywhere. He doesn’t like to be called a genius, but he really is. We’re great friends now. In fact, if you look at the picture of Disney Hall in my office and his inscription at the bottom, it says, ‘To Eli, the great genius.’ Because he knows Disney Hall wouldn’t have happened without me.” Gehry refused all requests to talk about Broad.
Eli and Edythe Broad. Photograph by s_bukley/Shutterstock.com
“Anybody,” Edye Broad tells me one afternoon over lunch at the Hotel Bel-Air, “would let their emotions guide them more than Eli does.”
Broad sizes up a task and then plunges in—whether it’s building houses or an art collection. But try leading him beyond his agenda, and his curiosity and zeal evaporate. His prodigious powers of retention abruptly shut off as if by some internal breaker. The result is that Broad has exiled himself from entire realms of human feeling. The people closest to him paint a portrait of a man of enormous satisfactions and few joys. Riordan isn’t the only friend to compare Broad to a machine. His neighbor and former business colleague Sanford Sigoloff calls him a “precision clock, set by date book and items of interest.”
Broad poses questions to collect data. Once that data is in his possession, he’ll no sooner draw out the conversation to make others feel he has some regard for their opinions than he would continue poring over superfluous figures on a balance sheet. The sole pleasantry he’ll engage in is the weather—the beauty of a Southern California morning or a Basque country afternoon.
He embraced contemporary art the way a rabbinical student tackles the Talmud, amassing knowledge rather than pursuing a love. In earlier years he prided himself on never going above $100,000 at an auction, and he is still a ruthlessly restrained bidder. He can talk about art’s social significance, its historical import, the intellectual ideas behind it, but he has a difficult time pinpointing a work in his collection that has had a deep emotional impact on him. He settles on Arlequin au Baton, a late Picasso painting that hangs in the apartment he maintains in New York. “I love that picture,” he says. “It has everything in it. I can’t describe it. It’s a male in a strange Picasso threatening pose. He has a weapon in his hand. It’s a large painting, and therefore the size by itself makes a statement, the colors and position of this person.”
Broad’s two grown sons do not share his ambition; they’re both private investors and have moved away to quiet communities where wealthy people in Los Angeles sometimes go to retire. Jeffrey, the older, lives in Santa Barbara, and Gary recently settled in Lake Tahoe. “They saw how hard their father worked and how much time he spent away from his family,” Broad says. “They never had the thirst to do things I did. They lead a good, balanced life, rather than coming from a humble beginning and crawling their way out like I did.”
“A friend of ours was over, and Eli was outside,” Edye says during lunch. “He had the TV on—he was watching some game—and he was on the phone and reading a stack of papers. My friend looked out there and asked, ‘What is Eli doing?’ I said, ‘He’s taking some time off.’ And she said, ‘His relaxing makes me nervous.’ ”
In a black wool suit and a jade scarf, smiling widely, Edye Broad is casual in public the way Broad is not. She’s game to pursue an idea even if she has no notion of where it will lead her. As is often the case with women who are married to driven, unreflective men, Edye is left to explain her husband’s human dimension.
Others might look back over their lives as they approach 70, but Broad won’t give his past the least consideration. Edye understands why. “Because the past is over,” she says. “You can’t change it. You can’t do anything with it.”
His high school friend Burt Binder likes to tell the story of how he and Broad returned to Detroit for their 40th class reunion in 1991. They decided to take their wives on a driving tour of their old haunts, making their way to the street Broad grew up on. “The neighborhood was a lot of burned-up, boarded-up houses, to be frank with you,” Binder says. “We kept the doors locked all the time. We went on a sentimental journey, and it was like going through Watts. Eli wasn’t afraid. He had me stop and he said, ‘I have just got to knock on the door and tell the people I used to live here.’ ”
Binder watched from the car as Broad walked to the front entrance. “Eli said, ‘I used to live here. I used to live in this house.’ And the guy said, ‘Big deal.’ ”
When asked, Broad says he has no recollection of the experience. “I’m trying to remember. Maybe I did that. I don’t know.”
At the end of our lunch, Edye talks about a Sunday afternoon in 1984, when Broad found himself a captive audience to his own emotions. It was the greatest theatrical event of Edye’s life. She had seen Death of a Salesman so many times before that she really didn’t have much desire to sit through it again, but the Broads were in New York, and Dustin Hoffman was starring in the revival, and it was raining, so why not? “When the curtain went down, nobody applauded,” Edye says. “There was dead silence. Everyone was absolutely stunned.” The theater was so overcome by the destruction of Willy Loman—self-deluded, single-minded, alone. “Then like a roar, everybody started screaming because it was truly unbelievable—yelling, standing up, applauding. And I said to Eli—not right away, because it was very, very moving—I said, ‘Wasn’t that the most incredible experience you’ve ever had?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Don’t ever do that to me again. I want to kill myself.’ He was so depressed, and it was sort of ‘I don’t want to feel like that. That’s not helpful.’ So now I go to the theater usually without him.”
As influential as Broad remains in Los Angeles civic life, he came within three elections of being more so. In 2001, he backed former California assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa in his failed campaign for L.A. mayor. Broad supported Riordan’s gubernatorial run, but after Governor Gray Davis helped engineer his loss in the 2002 Republican primary, Broad had less of an ally in Sacramento than before. A teachers union, infuriated with Broad and Riordan’s confrontational agenda, outspent them in this February’s school board elections and bumped off their get-tough majority.
Nor has Broad succeeded in reprising his MOCA and Disney Hall fund-raising performances at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Seven years ago Broad joined LACMA’s board and quickly emerged as the most dynamic member of its executive committee. When the museum announced a design competition to upgrade its Wilshire Boulevard campus, Broad brought in Richard Koshalek to chair the search; he flew board members to Europe to visit architects at their studios. Of the five finalists, one—the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas—ignored the modest limitations set by the museum. He proposed tearing nearly everything down and replacing it with a radical structure that resembled a massive translucent tent. Broad aggressively backed Koolhaas, and in December 2001, with great fanfare, the museum announced that it was embarking on a $400 million transformation at least as ambitious as Disney Hall. Broad never had so much personally riding on a civic venture. He had told friends that he would prefer to bequeath his art to a public institution. But when Broad’s Johns to Koons show debuted at LACMA that fall, it revealed how awkwardly the monumental pieces in his collection fit into the museum’s cramped spaces. The Koolhaas solution would cost more than Disney Hall or Guggenheim Bilbao and would elevate LACMA’s architecture to a level commensurate with the Warhols, Lichtensteins, and Kiefers in Broad’s collection.
A year later Koolhaas’s scheme died. There are abundant reasons for its failure, and not just the collapse of the stock market. Many of the companies Broad had tapped for Disney Hall—ARCO, Times Mirror, Bank of America—had been merged into conglomerates whose headquarters were far from Los Angeles, and they weren’t about to demonstrate the same commitment to the city.
“I don’t think Disney Hall could be done today, based upon both the economy and the corporations,” Broad says. “Let me say this: It would take a lot longer, and you’d have to ride out this cycle to get it done.”
In this dismal climate, Broad donated $1.2 million and lent $1 million more for a ballot measure that would have awarded $98 million to the Koolhaas design, under the pretext of improving earthquake and fire safety at the county museums. “What you had was probably three $50 million givers, myself, and two foundations,” Broad says. “This was not nailed down. Had the bond passed, that would get you to $250 million. The rest was tough, but it could have been done.” But the bond was defeated, and neither Broad nor the foundations gave.
So Broad is a leader of an institution whose physical plant he loathes. “Clearly, the original museum was bad enough,” he says, “but the additions they’ve made have made it even worse.” Broad says he’s committed to donating his collection to a public institution and that LACMA remains his first choice. With his Disney Hall allies gone and the civic landscape lonelier than ever, Broad may have to build Balloon Dog‘s new home himself. “When we were going ahead with Koolhaas, I was willing to commit $50 million. If I was willing to do that then, I’ll still be willing to be a major contributor. That’s all I can say.”
“Wait for the other car!” Broad barks to the driver. The Museo Guggenheim Bilbao is less than 50 yards from the Gran Hotel Domine, where Broad and his guests are staying, but protocol for the gala opening of Johns to Koons has dictated their arrival in two chauffeured minivans.
“Slow, slow, slow. He’s behind us, okay,” Broad commands, monitoring the progress of the second vehicle. “Go ahead.” The driver lets his foot off the brake, too tentatively. “Go ahead, go ahead, go ahead!”
We drive the better part of a mile, the van curling around the Guggenheim’s titanium bulk. As the Broads and the Riordans are dropped off at the back entrance, a group of demonstrators protesting the museum’s labor practices charges toward them, but they are too far away to pose a real threat. “It’s almost an added attraction,” says Broad, mustering a smile. He’s dressed in a dark Italian suit offset by a checked tie and hankie. Edye Broad wears a black cape caballero style. Broad retraces his walk-through of the afternoon, but now he’s accompanied by Guggenheim director Tom Krens, the mayor of Bilbao, the U.S. ambassador to Spain, and a half-dozen reporters. Three of Broad’s favorite artists have also made the pilgrimage: David Salle and Jeff Koons, both wearing the conservative suits and striped ties of ’50s middle managers, and Ross Bleckner, who’s buried in conversation with Bianca Jagger.
After dinner Broad addresses his well-wishers, giving his wife full credit as the great instigator of their collection, acknowledging the terrific education contemporary art has given him, and reflecting, with a bit of envy, on the concerted civic will that has remade the grim industrial city that was Bilbao into today’s international arts mecca. “We’re proud of our collection of art,” Broad says. “And I must tell you without any doubt that this museum is the most magnificent setting for our collection or any collection.”
Moving outdoors onto the museum plaza, the Broads and their artists pose for pictures beneath another Koons piece—a Scottish terrier topiary about four stories high. It’s only about 10:30. The air is crisp, the Guggenheim suffused with a hushed glow in the surrounding darkness. Neither Edye Broad nor Salle nor Koons seems anxious to leave. Broad, though, has decided to have drinks in the cocktail lounge at the hotel. He’s Sigoloff’s precision clock, set by his date book. “Let’s say good night to the puppy,” Broad says, clapping his hands and moving everyone toward the crosswalk with his own momentum. “We’ll see the puppy tomorrow.”
At the bar, David Salle settles into a pink leather chair. He sold his first painting to Broad in 1982, and some of his best work—Savagery and Misrepresentation, Demonic Roland, and Tragedy—is at the Guggenheim tonight. Rail thin and elegant, he turns to the subject of his patron. “Eli’s the real deal,” Salle says. He’s observed Broad’s evolution as a collector and the building of his Gehry-designed house. “It’s the continual refinement,” he says. “You see, the art world is actually very small. It’s insular and self-referential. Eli’s the only person I know who’s really involved in that world but actually operates in a much bigger sphere. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from Eli—his social responsibility, his vision.”
He calls out to Broad, who’s discussing education reform with Ross Bleckner. “Eli,” he says, “we’re singing your praises here, or rather I’m singing your praises.”
“Say what?” Broad says.
“I feel,” Salle says, “like I’ve learned from you.”
“What have you learned from me?”
“A certain notion of consensus-building in a larger world that no collector I have dealings with has offered in such a large sphere. I don’t mean just the art world but in the real world. You’ve given me access into that thinking in a very small way—my own way.”
In the presence of this artist—his artist—Broad begins to melt. Salle asks how he likes the Gran Hotel Domine’s rooms. “They’re very contemporary,” Broad says flatly. A moment’s pause. “They’re beautifully outfitted,” he says. “Beautiful! Beautiful details!”
When the drinks come, Broad makes a little joke about the bar’s tumblers, which tip at a 10-degree angle. “If I didn’t know better,” Broad says, “I’d say this glass wasn’t straight. Look!” he exclaims. “There’s six guys at the bar drinking Budweiser!”
He hasn’t let go entirely, of course. While Broad says he’s glad that his collection isn’t being squeezed into tight corners as it was during last year’s stop at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery, he worries about it getting lost in Gehry’s masterwork. “I don’t know,” Broad says. “It seems too spacious.”
“Too spacious?” Salle says.
“Yeah,” Broad says. “If you look at Balloon Dog, it looks smaller than it is.”
“See, I don’t think so at all,” Salle says. “I think it’s the right scale. I feel that I can really see it and walk around it.”
As for the display given Salle’s work, Broad says he’s pleased. “It’s nice,” he says, “to see Tragedy from a distance.”
If Salle has learned from his patron, Broad is glad to say how much he’s learned from the artist. “It’s reciprocal,” he says. “I like to argue that art has been very educational, but especially contemporary art, because I can meet people like David Salle and Jeff Koons. If I spent all my time with businessmen and bankers, I’d have a very narrow view of our society and the world.”
Has this exposure to art introduced him to a more subversive view of the world?
A second’s hesitation, and the balance sheet is thrown out the window.
In the giddiness of the night’s triumph, Eli Broad goes for broke.
“Subversive?” he says. “No, I wouldn’t call it subversive. I’d call it different. Perhaps we in business have the subversive view.”
This feature appears in the June 2003 issue of Los Angeles magazine.