Now that Eli Broad has declared his museum building intentions, the always-right Christopher Knight has some words of advice for him on how to build his new institution:
As a model for the new Broad, look to Houston’s Menil Collection.
The Menil may be the nation’s most universally admired single-collector art museum. Partly that’s because of a great collection. Mostly, though, the sensibility of the place is distinctive, beautifully embodying the humanist principles of its founders.
As the late John de Menil explained it, “Art: Take it off its marble pedestal and show it as a daily companion, refreshing, human and rich: witness of its time and prophet of times to come.”
A daily companion. The Menil, purposely built in a residential neighborhood, deftly merges a public edifice with a domestic environment. Arrive at the entrance and neither bombast nor institutional indifference nor hustle-and-bustle greets you.
Admission is free. A woman behind the front desk smiles and says hello. You can linger in naturally lighted rooms, many with a garden atrium and seating. The gracious atmosphere is serious but relaxed.
Can “art as a daily companion” function in a downtown L.A. environment? Frank Gehry, architect of Disney Concert Hall next door to the planned Broad Collection site, wanted his magnificent building to be “a living room for the city” — his words for a daily companion. Design changes prevented that, but there’s no reason it can’t happen next door, if that’s what the clients and their architects set out to achieve.