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New Yorker profile on Eli Broad goes wide and deep -- and gets a few points wrong

November 29, 2010 |  4:07 pm

Broad2 The most recent issue of The New Yorker magazine features an 11-page profile on Eli Broad, the Los Angeles billionaire whose philanthropic activity over the years has helped to shape the city's arts and cultural landscape.

The magazine profile, titled "The Art of the Billionaire," offers many juicy tidbits about Broad's sometimes contentious relationships with L.A.'s cultural bigwigs as well as a peek into the art collecting habits of his wife, Edythe. But the article, written by Connie Bruck, gets some points wrong on the cultural history of L.A.

Most of the New Yorker profile is devoted to career highlights that have already been reported in newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. The article details Broad's involvement with the city's top museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art. It also discusses his plan to construct his own art museum -- the Broad Collection -- on Grand Avenue in downtown L.A. that is scheduled to open in late 2012.

The article traces the general contours of Broad's life from his arrival in L.A. in 1963 to his rise as a successful businessman in the homebuilding and financial services industries. It also devotes significant space to Edythe Broad, including sections detailing her art purchases as well as her personal temperament (mild) compared with her husband's (sometimes caustic).

Interpersonal clashes have marked some of Broad's relationships with cultural leaders in various fields. The billionaire has reportedly crossed swords with Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Ann Philbin and a number of LACMA trustees, including Lynda Resnick.

Though it offers a thorough account of Broad's career and philanthropic activities, the New Yorker profile shows a shaky understanding of L.A.'s cultural history. In fact, it gets some points wrong:

-- The article states that in the '60s, L.A.-based artists including "Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, John Baldessari, Ken Price, Larry Bell, Edward Kienholz and others ... relied on New York galleries to show their work." The reporter fails to mention L.A.'s Ferus Gallery and other venues that showed the work of prominent local artists during the '50s and '60s. The Ferus Gallery has since drawn acclaim for championing the early work of artists who would go on to international careers, and was featured in the recent documentary "The Cool School."

-- In the same paragraph, the reporter states that in the '60s, L.A. "had no serious opera, ballet, or theatre." The statement is untrue, particularly the last part. In 1967, the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre began presenting original stage productions and revivals at the Music Center in downtown L.A. The venues are now part of Center Theatre Group, the largest theater organization in L.A.

-- The article states at one point that Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A. was built "to replace the acoustically flawed Dorothy Chandler Pavilion." Obviously, the Pavilion is still standing and in active use. (It's the current home of the L.A. Opera.) Disney Hall was built as a new home for the L.A. Philharmonic, which had previously resided in the Pavilion since it opened in 1964.

-- David Ng

Photos: Eli and Edythe Broad, at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art earlier this month. Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

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