- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

T here are collectors and then there is Los Angeles home-builder billionaire Eli Broad. Mr. Broad's wife, Edythe, used to buy artwork during his numerous out-of-town business trips. Mr. Broad (rhymes with "road") says he considered art collecting "Edye's hobby" until he started recognizing the names of artists. "I got nervous," he jokes in the catalog for "Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art From the Broad Collections." The exhibit, which draws on the Broads' private and foundation collections, opens today at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

"I started to grill her: 'How much was it? Where did you get it? What do you know about it?'"

He got so involved that the couple eventually assembled 1,100 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings and photographs. The traveling show, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, encompasses 80 works from 19 artists.

The Broads became major collectors of popsters Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol; comic-strip-inspired artist Roy Lichtenstein; humorist and satirist Jeff Koons; the post-World War II Sturm-und-Drang German artist Anselm Kiefer; New York artists Julian Schnabel and Eric Fischl; and Los Angeles artists Charles Ray and Sharon Lockhart, among others.

Mr. Broad, 68, calls art collecting "rewarding and challenging" and a part of his lifelong mission to "make a difference." He co-founded Kaufman & Broad Home Corp. to build tract houses in the 1960s, he and anticipated the needs of the baby boomers in the early 1980s with retirement planning. He built SunAmerica, a retirement savings company.

This marks the first time parts of the Broads' art collection have traveled to the East Coast together, although loans of single objects were made before. The presentation is somewhat curtailed by the Corcoran's limited gallery viewing spaces, and parts had to go out on "the bridge."

The Broads' first major purchase in 1972 was a Van Gogh drawing for $95,000, when the couple was just beginning to learn about art. They studied art by going to museums and reading catalogs, art magazines and books. Their initial purchases were fragmented a Joan Miro painting, an Henri Matisse ink drawing and an Amedeo Modigliani caryatid, as well as others.

It didn't take long for the couple to focus on contemporary art. They say they have liked its energy and sense of adventure for more than 40 years. They also enjoy meeting artists and becoming friends with them. "I had a theory that the great collections of the world were made when the art was contemporary you can't go back and create a great postimpressionist collection today," Mr. Broad says in the catalog.

They sold the Van Gogh to pay for a Robert Rauschenberg work in 1983. Mr. Broad humorously describes the Rauschenberg sale at the Sotheby's auction in the catalog: "I was the successful bidder for the Rauschenberg and I joke about the term 'successful bidder.' It means that you're stupid enough to pay more than anyone else in the world would pay for the object. But we got it. And then not having unlimited funds we sold the Van Gogh."

The collectors are great admirers of photographer Cindy Sherman, who explores issues of female representation and different kinds of violence. Mr. Broad says they started collecting her work in 1980. "Then we just followed her around and now have about a hundred of her works," he says. The Sherman section of the exhibit is especially strong, with her "Art History Portraits" in which she dresses herself in early French and Italian costumes.

The Broads chose to concentrate on several artists in depth. One is the sometimes controversial Jeff Koons, whose spectacular "Balloon Dog" introduces visitors to the exhibit in the Corcoran's Rotunda. The artist worked on conceptualizing, planning, designing and manufacturing the enormous piece for more than eight years. The sculpture is made of more than 2,000 pounds of stainless steel covered by a transparent color coating. "It's about celebration and childhood and color and simplicity, but it's also a Trojan horse," the artist says.

The sculpture is making its first East Coast appearance at the Corcoran.

Stephanie Barron, co-curator of the exhibit, calls Mr. Koons "funny, but with an edge."

"He doesn't deal in belly laughs but in irony," she says.

An example in the exhibit is "Michael Jackson and Bubbles" (1988), an ironic comment on Mr. Jackson's pain and pleasure, from the artist's "Banality" series. The superstar singer had just released his third solo album, "Bad." Mr. Koons commissioned Italian craftsmen to create a life-size ceramic sculpture of the pop star and his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, from a press photo. They are shown in matching gold band uniforms and with excessive makeup. Mr. Jackson's fame had focused attention on the shimmering ivory that was painted on the face to make him look white and what cosmetic surgery had done to him.

Miss Barron, along with co-curator Lynn Zelevansky of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, divided the show into five sections. It begins with work by Mr. Johns, Cy Twombly and Mr. Warhol. The Broads were able to buy Mr. Johns' seminal piece, "The Watchman," of 1964 and include it in the exhibit.

It continues with Mr. Lichtenstein's blur of yellows and blacks in the large, central gallery. Mr. Lichtenstein's work is a favorite of Mr. Broad, who speaks fondly of his friendship with Roy and Dorothy Lichtenstein.

The show continues still further with Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha's take on pop and progresses with the minimalist "signs" of John Baldessari and the post-World War II irony of German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher and Mr. Kiefer. Among others are graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a New Yorker of Haitian and Puerto Rican heritage, and his emotional intensity; and the "cooler" work of New Yorkers Ross Bleckner, Mr. Fischl and David Salle. Mr. Schnabel is represented with a signature "broken plates" painting.

Mr. Broad says simply, "We always wanted to put together the best collection of contemporary art in the United States. Quality was always the yardstick."

Art News magazine recently named the Broad Collections among the 10 best in America.

In comparing the assemblage to the collection of Robert and Jane Meyerhoff at Phoenix, Md., and the National Gallery of Art, the same dedication to particular artists and quality is evident. The Broads, quite naturally, have involved Los Angeles artists such as Mr. Ruscha and Charles Ray in their sphere.

Mr. Broad is passionate about the philanthropic area of art. In 1984, the collector established the Broad Art Foundation to build a lending collection of contemporary art to smaller museums. He was the founding chairman of the board of Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art and engaged Japanese architect Arata Isozaki Arazoki as the designer. He donated $20 million to expand the University of California Los Angeles' art facilities.

Mr. Broad emphasizes that he makes his own decisions about collecting art. "I'm not saying the decisions are perfect, but they're mine," he says.

WHAT: "Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: Four Decades of Art From the Broad Collections"

WHERE: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 17th Street at New York Avenue NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.daily, except Tuesdays; until 9 p.m. Thursdays. The exhibition will be on view through June 3.

TICKETS: $5 adults, $8 families, $3 seniors and guests of members, $1 students (12 to 18 years old with valid ID)

PHONE: 202/639-1700

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