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On Sunday, Broad and his wife, Edythe, will open the Broad, a $140 million museum that will store and display the Broad Collection, some 2,000 works, with a new one being added, on average, about once a week. Located next to Los Angeles’s iconic landmark of contemporary architecture, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Broad was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the New York firm that created the High Line park and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and that was slated to design the ill-fated and unrealized temporary “Bubble” space for the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.
The juxtaposition is striking. Gehry’s Disney Hall is set at an angle to the street, and it shimmers, gleams and curves in all directions, while the Broad faces Grand Avenue squarely with a cool, white, boxlike form covered in what the architects call a “veil” of perforated glass-fiber reinforced concrete. But even more striking than the contrast with the Gehry building is the Broad’s subtle argument with much of recent museum design. The prevailing theology of many public buildings today, including too many museums, is about erasing the line between the city and the structure, so that one feels the excitement of urban energy ever present, even while looking at art. The most salient example is the new Whitney Museum in New York, which makes love to Manhattan so eagerly that one can’t help but gape at the city’s promiscuous ubiquity.
The Broad is more inward-looking and allows for a more contemplative experience. Perhaps without intending to do so, it recaptures some of the spiritual drama of the much-maligned monumental museums of yesteryear: Fundamental to any tour of the Broad is a long escalator ride from the lobby level to the square-acre expanse of open, column-free exhibition space on the third floor. This escalation performs much of the same function as the wide, monumental steps that front many of the museums built a century ago. It separates the visitor from the city and from his cares, cars and concerns; it is a narthex for the age of distraction, allowing the mind to rebirth itself into a state of greater focus and spiritual expectation. […]