mega art collector & mega philanthropist – ELI BROAD, flew in from the West Coast for the big contemporary auctions – and while here, gave a low-key talk at 92Y, this past Sunday, May 6, 2012. CHARLIE ROSE moderated, and the easy flowing talk was followed by a booksigning for Mr. Broad’s newly published hardcover book, a semi-autobiography framed as an ‘how to succeed’ manual: ‘THE ART OF BEING UNREASONABLE’ – subtitled, ‘LESSONS IN UNCONVENTIONAL THINKING’, WILEY, (2012).

on the right: EDYE BROAD, Mr. Broad’s wife who shares his passion for art, and philanthropy big time – and the well-know curator, NORA HALPERN, at left.

also present, DAVID MUGRABI of the WARHOL and BASQUIAT collecting & selling, NYC-based, MUGRABI clan, and a cutting edge collector in his right.

LA-based art world kingpin – ELI BROAD, now 78 – signs his new book.
the advance publicity for the event advised that the talk would center on ‘business’ advice – not the art world, but I was banking, NOT !!
and I was right !!

no matter what you may have heard about the guy – up close and personal, you could easily see he has a real deep-rooted passion for the arts – and not only did that sentiment dominate the stage, it was the final destination of many a sentence – that might have started out elsewhere !! CINDY SHERMAN and JEFF KOONS, in particular with their hyper-visual, yet super smart intellectually-infused work, seem to have really caught him hard. though he did mention in passing, that he had seen a young JEAN MICHEL BASQUIAT’S work in the basement at ANNINA NOSEI’s now ‘infamous’ gallery on Prince St. in Soho, in the early 80s. which is also about the same time he first stumbled upon a young CINDY SHERMAN’s work at the original METRO PICTURES Gallery on Mercer St., also in Soho – which was really happening, hard and fast back then. and definitely the place to be.

In fact, he seemed very proud of the fact that he had purchased his very first Cindy Sherman photograph in 1982, from Metro Pictures, still her dealer, for $200. Charlie Rose then asked him: if he had seen the big CINDY SHERMAN retrospective, currently up through JUNE 11, 2012 at MoMA, and, what he had thought. Mr. Broad, could barely muster “of course” – the memory of that show, obviously being so awesome to him, he was rendered momentarily speechless.

so, there it was in a nutshell.
forget about ‘branding’ collections – as the reason to buy art, and/or business advice.
bye the way, he never once mentioned the money-making aspects of the art world, not once !!
but just mention CINDY SHERMAN, and there was the hard-nosed self-made businessman billionaire, to whom Charlie Rose termed, right to his face as: “tough, tough, and more tough. . . and if you want gracious, see Edye !!” – and you’d see the big guy fall fall falling into such a momentary state of transcendence, such a moment of pure delight and speechless reverie !! – it was almost tactile. and you wish it could only be contagious. I think it was seeing this head-on mix between the stubborn hard-boiled corporate number cruncher and the deep-ending visual dreamer – that shocked and awed me, the most. talk about 6 pack to heaven.

Mr. Rose also let drop, in a slightly more alarming ? enlightening ? phrase that: “negotiations with Eli Broad are said, never to be over – until they’re really over ” !! ha. in other words if you’ve ever inked a NYC lease – you know what he’s talking about !! just when you’ve shook hands, and you think the deal’s done, the guys tells you, and oh by the way, I want the . . . . . . . corner office, for life, for free. and the table in it !!

p.s. the big guy didn’t bat an eyelash. if butter could melt in his mouth it would. he was very charming throughout. and Mr. Rose did try to get a rise from him, every here and there. but no could do. but if you really looked hard – you could see a deep-rooted fierceness, down there hand-in-hand with the art passion, which made his total presence, his live persona – very compelling. you only wish you could put a cap on it, and sell it.

the book includes a few pages of archival photos. this is Mr. Broad with his striking beautiful wife, EDYE, still a lovely and very chic woman – and their young family. apparently Mr. Broad had been working on a more extensive autobiography, but it was “taking too long” – so he jumped straight to the chase – with this book. why do I get the feeling, that’s the story – of his life !!

MR. BROAD, rhymes with road, went on to relate that he and his wife have 2,000 artworks in their ‘private’ collection, by 110 different artists . . . and that they buy a new piece every year, from Cindy and Jeff. and, he told Charlie, of course, one of his big thrills is being invited back to an artist’s studio. Mr. Broad did credit his wife with being an important force behind the collecting – he called it an “addiction”. yep, when you can really get the art – it sure can sweep you up, and hit you hard.

one funny story he related was how early on in the making of his fortune, they started collecting art in 1972, EDYE had seen an early ANDY WARHOL soup can that was going for $100. but she hesitated on buying it, thinking her husband would consider her nuts. he admits that he didn’t really get Andy right away, but eventually came to see him as a modern master, big time . . right up there with Duchamp, etc. Flashforward, they were both at a big contemporary auction when one of those very soup cans came up for bidding. someone won it for $10 million !! and Mr. Broad relates that Edye turned around to him and said: “what idiot just bought that, and for that much ?” and it was – him !! and, he lamented to us . . . it was a torn one, too.

the FRANK GEHRY-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. Photo source: TOM BONNER

of course, Mr. BROAD is justifiably proud of how he has contributed to, and led the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles, including the souvenir postcard-ready WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL, above, a project that had been stalled, until he came onboard . . . and the art scene as whole, down there. he says, and it’s quite true, that before he came on the scene, you had to be a New York-based artist – if you wanted to make it, and now that isn’t quite true anymore, and even as a New York-centric scenester, I’d have to concede – that, yes, that was indeed correct, though with not quite as much conviction. and, the artist that I have in mind, RETNA !! is probably not one that Mr. Broad is referencing – though RETNA did benefit from the big street art push at the ELI BROAD supported – MOCA. but yes, this was unthinkable a decade ago.

Mr. Broad went on to say, that he and his wife live in a Frank Gehry-designed home, and “they love it”. but, as a quick-to-read between the lines, character myself – I gather there was / is some incredible controversy / power struggle, and why not !! or maybe: how not !! that ensued between these two powerful men !! because Charlie Rose kept on trying to catch him, trip him up, from time to time, saying things like: “are you sure, you two are good friends ?”, or “you guys are on speaking terms ?” to which Mr. Broad would always counter: yes, of course they were on speaking terms, it fact they were good friends “who meet for dinner once a month” . . ” or something like that . . . ha. if only to be a fly on in the wall – in that game !!

Mr. Broad did let slip, things like delays with construction papers for building permits, and that he had slowly come to realize that every time Mr. Gehry said he needed to make an adjustment – “it meant he was gonna change the whole design from top to bottom” !! in other words one might surmise – that whatever a non-stoppable bulldozer Mr. Broad was in the business world, as he amassed his two huge FORTUNE 500 companies and vast billion+ dollar empire – that when he hit the art world – he hit the wall. ha. welcome to the art world. and the mind of the creative genius. though he did also footnote that: he thought architecture was a true art form, unlike the sculptor RICHARD SERRA, who he related, did NOT. though he did clarify that Serra was a great “sculptor”. and Gehry obviously a genius.
(it’s funny to consider how they both, Serra and Gehry, share a love of huge curved metal forms.)

“JEFF KOONS has become one of Eli and Eyde Broad’s dearest friends and (one of the) most treasured artists in their collections. The Broad collections have 27 works by the artist.” – the caption under the archival photo in the book.

one: collections – plural is right. apart from their very own private collection of 2,000 contemporary, they only collect contemporary, artworks that are hung in their homes, (homes – plural, I’m assuming ?), Eli and Edye Broad have, maintain, and/or otherwise support and bankroll several other major collections in many other guises and housed in other institutions, mostly museums, and they are instrumental in the leadership and even the building of those other museums. as tonight’s talk went, these offshoots – did not get that much specific attention.

though he did say that he moved to L.A. in 1963 because of the wide open housing market, one of his key businesses, and mostly that he liked that L.A. was in his words a “meritocracy” where talent and ideas, not who you knew, could get you ahead. he and his wife are big into philanthropy, and have contributed immensely to the education, science, medicine, and art platforms in California. and we are talking like 400 million here, an additional $200 million there, etc. etc. he seems to have taken educational reform to heart, and he believes in giving away your wealth in your lifetime, (as he put it: “at least you know where it’s going that way”) and putting it back into the community. in other words, as he sees it, the real race to succeed and accumulate all that wealth – is really – just to give it way in a meaningful and focused way. He referenced ‘NATION AT RISK’ (1983), as a great inspiration.

two: I, personally – used to think not so much of Mr. Broad’s collecting because it seemed to stop with the 80’s, and it’s 2012 !! it seemed not to go forward from that point on, as if not much had happened past Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons . . . but the one really BIG thing I took away from this talk – was how much, and it’s a huge amount dollar-wise & commitment-wise, the Broads direct to supporting fine art and design education in California, the number of colleges, universities, and design schools that receive their support – is almost a truly blanket reality.

SO, SERIOUSLY, if you’re not so much in touch with the cutting edge happening art, yourself – how great, not to just continue to be cherry-picking from the elitist & narrow gallery-commerce scene . . . which in effect – is just putting the money pack into the FEW private pockets, of a few chosen artists or dealers – but to seriously spread the wealth among the entire creative scene, by endowing, supporting and nuturing a whole web of higher education and museum platforms for the arts, especially one with an eye towards what’s – popping !! hot !! getting the art world: the art experience, the art skills, the whole creative brain wave – out there – in the broadest, pun intended – way possible.

case in point: one of the most impressive young artists I’ve come across recently, DEREK WEISBERG, who was NOT showing his on-point porcelain sculptures in any of the predictable and established art venues here, but at the Greenwich House Pottery’s small storefront gallery (!!), has a resume that seems to mark him as a product of that BROAD-inspired California arts educational landscape. Mr. Weisberg received his BFA from California College of Arts and Crafts in 2005, and even if that school is not a direct recipient of the Broads inspired largesse, I’m not sure specifically, though I’m thinking yes ? – I’m sure that Derek Weisberg benefited from the cultural richness – that the Broads have brought to that part of the country. same with RETNA. who showed at that big street art exhibit that happened at MOCA.
and, so I’m down with that. I guess keeping it real, is the key.

three: ok. just to get back on point !! and bring everything back home !!
it was truly shock and awing !! to see this tough as nails, brilliant, apparently hard as diamonds businessman, who built two Fortune 500 companies, from the ground-up, present himself so humbly – in the face of what we all live and breathe for – the art world !!
here’s a guy who started off as a cut-and-dry C.P.A. in Michigan – and goes on through the housing business, to build up SUN AMERICA INSURANCE, based on retirement funds (!!) – and sells it to AIG (Hank Greenberg, ha – would have liked to have seen those two in motion, just saying . . .) for 18 billion – and Jeff Koon’s stainless steel ‘Rabbit’ will bring him to his knees – every time.


SO: it was so jolting to see two young, well, twenty-something, Asian-American girls in the small audience, (figuratively) jump on Mr. Broad during what was supposed to be a Q&A. the first aggressively challenged Mr. Broad to look at her work right then & there, after the talk. that really woke up a spark in Mr. Rose, who immediately got right in there, and told her how rude it was for her to ask this of his guest, and he refused to allow her put Mr. Broad on the spot like that – and he was right !! and, then wouldn’t you know, just 10 mins. later – the second girl, like as if the rebuke had never happened, jumps up and starts with the ‘how amazing you are, you changed my life’ approach, will you look at my work after the talk, and if not, why not !! and what do I need to do, to make this happen, and, will this huge stuffed animal, I think it was even a rabbit !! I have brought along to give you, help ?

of course, the on-a-scale of 10, rating not-even-a-fraction, SUZE ORHMAN wannabe. cropped mannish hair, beige khakis and suspenders !! in other words – the whole deal. was even more scary. she seriously inquired of Mr. Broad, what she should do – she was moving to Arizona !! and would he recommend she buy a house, and when he said, of course, the best time to buy a house is a down market, she went on, so persistently we all thought, what ? is she was going to pull out her income tax file . . . and go down it, line to line. just shows you how desperate every one is for the big idea, the big fortune.

as for myself, after the signing I did get in a question, too !!

so, are you gonna buy that JEFF KOONS LOCOMOTIVE hanging from a crane, the response:
“I don’t know – he wants $25 million” !!