LA art worlders were quick to jump on the New Yorker’s recent profile of multi-billionaire art collector and philanthropist Eli Broad. LATimes art critic Christopher Knight tweeted this article by David Ng for the paper’s Culture Monster blog that goes through the New Yorker profile point by point, showing where it comes up short.
The New Yorker’s profile is entitled “The Art of the Billionaire,” with just enough irony to poke fun at the rich guy without overtly making fun: this is the Billionaire’s art, after all. Though the full profile itself only available through subscription, we do have the abstract to enjoy for free. Connie Bruck poses Broad as “the Lorenzo de’ Medici of Los Angeles—the city’s singular patron, especially of the arts,” documenting the philanthropist’s “flirting” between LA MOCA (LA Museum of Contemporary Art) and LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and his struggles to found a personal museum.
Yet Bruck seems to focus too much on the Billionaire and not enough on the Art, the milieu that Bruck claims Broad has come to dominate. Ng shows us that “the New Yorker profile shows a shaky understanding of L.A.’s cultural history,” pinpointing Bruck’s ignorance of the historic Ferus gallery that provided an initial venue for many of the Light and Space artists that have come to define California’s awakening in the 50s and 60s as a contemporary art center. Bruck also wrongly claims that LA lacked theater institutions in the 60s and wrongly assigns faulty acoustics to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
What Ng’s response reveals is a lack of historical cultural awareness that wouldn’t be tolerated in a New Yorker piece about a New York art world institution. Where were the fact checkers on this one? It might look like regionalism until you realize that Bruck actually lives in LA. What her piece seems to lack, aside from basic background information, is a critical mindset going into the profile. Broad doesn’t need any more hagiography; what we as an audience need is a closer look into what makes Broad tick, what drives him and how his personal drive impacts the art world around him. We didn’t need another (misinformed) rehash of his myriad achievements, for better or worse.