If you are familiar with Christopher Knight’s work, his admiring and respectful review of the new Broad museum in Los Angeles might seem oddly off key until the very end.
The critic, who has been particularly critical of the home-building and finance billionaire, has mostly good things to say about the museum. He’s especially positive about its patron’s taste for collecting particular artists in depth and the decision to display their works in artist’s rooms.
Other observers weren’t so kind. Bloomberg’s James Tarmy sees the echo of the art world’s present patterns in the museum’s layout:
With so many rooms devoted to single artists—and perhaps because so many of the artworks are recognizably expensive—the galleries in the opening installation could draw comparisons to the aesthetic of an art fair, especially when the crowds arrive.
With that Tarmy steals a bit of the thunder Knight was saving for the close of his review after introducing Jeff Koons’s Tulips:
“Tulips” tells us something we don’t always want to hear. The prospect of immortality, however vain, can be vested in precincts of incalculable wealth and extraordinary power. Like pyramids, say. Or the Broad.
The sculpture’s witty placement underscores the narrowness of the collection. It’s mainly rich in blue-chip art, defined by market value decided through consistent years of sales and confirmed at auction.
The market, subject to commercial limitations, is hardly infallible. It leaves a lot out. That’s why the show’s “sweep” feels choppy, and why about 80% of the 92 artists featured in the collection’s new catalog are male, which the art market favors.
It’s also why the show stresses art from New York and Europe, where art’s primary trading floors are located, but not Los Angeles, where the collection was assembled. Ironically, in “Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell,” his cheeky 1966-68 sign painting, L.A.’s John Baldessari gives the sardonic lowdown. “Paintings with cows and hens collect dust,” it declares, “while bulls and roosters sell.”
Markets always distinguish between what’s salable and what’s not, but they can’t calculate quality.
Knight is absolutely right in every one of these points. But one has to wonder whether he hasn’t got it the wrong way around. The art market is nothing more than expression of thousands of individual choices made by wealthy and prominent persons like Broad and his wife. The Broad collection may not reflect the market nearly as much as the market is an expression of the tastes of men and women like the Broads.
Touring the Broad Art Museum, L.A.’s Newest Architectural Wonder (Bloomberg Business)