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It is the job of museums with only one or two patrons to be quirky and challenging. That’s what makes such places as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or the Barnes Foundation so endearing and important to their communities. By that definition, the structure that houses The Broad—the eagerly anticipated $140 million contemporary art museum and namesake project of the billionaire art patrons Eli and Edythe Broad in Los Angeles—is a resounding success.
The exterior is a three-story gift box wrapped in a bridal veil of white—made of fiberglass-reinforced concrete—that also looks like the kind of extruded metal mesh used to cover ventilators. There’s an inward puckering at the center of the facade that the architects call the “veil,” a frozen gasp of breath, while the building’s edges look torn and jagged. The extreme contrast provides the frisson one expects from L.A. as a rising culture capital.
The rectilinear box gives way to a surprisingly biomorphic interior. Heavily molded in glossy slate-gray Venetian plaster, the lobby is enveloped in a womb-like space complete with ligament-like contractions around two holes where a steep escalator and a staircase punch through muscular walls like aortic arteries to deliver visitors to a light and airy chamber on the third floor, the main gallery. Imagine being transported into Alexander Korda’s 1936 sci-fi thriller “Things to Come” or Frederick Kiesler’s “Endless House,” an experiment from the 1950s in turning the shapes of human organs into rooms. […]