Eli Broad, the Bronx-born businessman whose cultural patronage helped build up the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art as well as the Downtown L.A. museum that bears his name, passed away on Friday, April 30. He was 87.
Broad, who at the time of death was worth $6.7 billion, made the bulk of his fortune in homebuilding in the 1960s, before acquiring what would become the retirement savings company SunAmerica in 1971. Broad ultimately retired in 1999 to focus on philanthropic efforts full-time.
That decision would have a major impact on L.A.’s arts scene. Broad served as the founding chairman of the beleaguered Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in 1979 and helped land the museum its first large collection, the abstract and pop art collection of Giuseppe Panza. In 2008, the Broad Foundation donated $30 million to the MOCA as a bailout on the condition that it not merge with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
However, that condition wasn’t the result of any animosity towards the LACMA on the part of Broad or the foundation that bears his name. Broad was a trustee for life at the museum, and in 2003, the foundation donated $60 million to further the institution’s renovations and art acquisitions.
Of course, Broad’s biggest contribution to Los Angeles was the $140 million museum of his own. First announced in 2010, Diller Scofidio + Renfro ultimately won the design competition for The Broad Museum, which displays the wide-ranging art collection of Eli and Edythe Broad and is, for the most part, free to visit. The building opened in 2015 to critical acclaim, as its eye-catching striated facade and upturned corners drew professional awards (even as critics were less than enthusiastic about the actual work within at the time). Closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum is scheduled to reopen later this month. (In 2008, Broad stunned LACMA officials when he decided to hang on to his massive permanent art collection rather than donating it to the museum as expected. That collection ultimately went on to fill The Broad.)
But Broad’s philanthropy came with a downside. Broad was known for being demanding and having falling outs with the architects he hired, and has certainly drawn criticism from those who don’t think that so much institutional power should be wielded by one man alone. The Los Angeles Times noted that with Broad’s death, there’s a power vacuum in the arts and culture world that will need to be filled with diverse individuals, not just a single “kingmaker.”