Koons Collector: Eli Broad

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[caption id="attachment_2248" align="alignnone" width="577"]Eli and Edythe Broad with Jeff Koons and his work, Rabbit. Image courtesy The Broad Foundations.[/caption]

Eli Broad and Jeff Koons might seem a strange cou- ple. Broad is a philanthropist, collector and finan- cier who galvanizes the arts in the traditionally conservative world of bankers and corporations. Koons is a maverick artist and former Madison Avenue marketing guru who manages to incite critical furor and, more recently, pub- lic acclaim for his monumental public art and extreme appropriation of an art-as-commodity concept in a post-Warhol era. But collector and artist have more in common than their artist/collector relationship might suggest: they are both shrewd businessmen with uncanny acumen for tracking the art markets, anticipating trends and, most importantly, initiating developments.

In 1984, Eli and wife Edythe formed the Broad Art Foundation, the single largest collection of Jeff Koons art- works in the world.“We had more artworks than we could possibly display,” explains Broad, seated in his corporate offices in Westwood.“The art foun- dation was a way to share important works with museums, other institutions and the public.” Presently, the foundation has made more than 100 loans of Koons artworks to more than 30 institutions in ten countries.

Broad is perhaps Koons’ most prominent collector, having in his pos- session a number of famed pieces by the artist.“We own proofs of the bunny (Rabbit), the case works, and Balloon Dog. We just acquired Cracked Egg and Tulips,” he states. Broad’s recitation of his foundation’s holdings list is an encyclopedic litany of Koons’ oeuvre and, from the way he speaks, it’s clear that the billionaire is fully aware of its historical and aesthetic importance.

So, is the art foundation something like Broad’s own personal candy store of art? He seems surprised by the question and once more momentarily pauses. “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he says, smiling. “But I am still actively collecting. It’s not about the objects—I’ve learned a lot from the artists. I enjoy working with creative people.”

The Broad Art Foundation is located in a former telephone switch- ing station a block from Venice Beach. Like Broad, the building’s outside gives nothing away. But inside, the space looks museum-like, filled with the hallmarks of the contemporary art world: Cindy Sherman, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Basquiat, Damien Hirst and, of course, Jeff Koons. The roof sculpture garden provides majestic panoramas of the Pacific and up-close views of Artschwager and others. In short, the foundation comes across as a statement of informed commitment—scholarly and provocative, with sufficient range for critical and public introspection.

And the Koons-Broad connection is a relationship that continues to grow. “Jeff is working on a special commissioned work for the Broad Art Foundation that will debut at BCAM,” informs Joanne Heyler, director and chief curator of the Broad Foundation. BCAM is the in-house acronym used at the foundation for the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum that will extend LACMA into new aesthetic dimensions and physical space.

“Jeff and I were talking about the show at Gagosian Gallery,” explains Heyler, referring to Koons’ June 2007 solo exhibition in London. “Jeff thought it would be nice to have a large-scale painting that cumulates many of his key images, ideas and themes to inaugurate the new exhibition space.”

Art fans everywhere will have to wait until February 2008 (when BCAM opens) to see the piece for themselves.