Behind the scenes at the Broad Museum
“Do not touch” is the refrain of most museum visits — but for art handlers, breaking that commandment is part of the job. At The Broad, the major contemporary-art museum opening September 20 in Los Angeles, the 18-member installation team for the inaugural exhibition wears nitrile gloves and avoids belt buckles, watches, and dangling jewelry. “We have four people handle instead of two, if it seems two people could handle it,” says director of collections management Vicki Gambill, who organized the flow of about “30 tractor-trailers’ worth” of artwork throughout the 120,000-square-foot building. On a recent Monday afternoon, Gambill had temporarily commandeered some space near the entrance to stack wooden shipping crates; a cardboard cutout stood in for Jeff Koons’s stainless-steel Rabbit while the sculpture’s orientation was finalized.
The museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is wrapped in a honeycomb sheath of fiberglass-reinforced concrete, the openings filtering diffused light into the columnless top-floor gallery. Inside, the lobby is a whale belly of arched ribs covered in soft gray plaster. The building’s distinctive surface contrasts with the reflective exterior of Frank Gehry’s neighboring Walt Disney Concert Hall. The two architectural monoliths are part of a decades-long project to lure pedestrians to a downtown Los Angeles arts center.
Eli and Edythe Broad — the museum’s founders, namesakes, and only
donors — acquired 50 works in the 52 weeks before the installation, including the Robert Longo charcoal Untitled (Ferguson Police, August 13, 2014). Like most recent additions to the Broad collection, the drawing was made less than a year before its purchase. Broad director Joanne Heyler says that “the closer you get to the present, [the works] are a lot less settled in terms of art history,” and installation takes “a little more revision.” During the setup, she adjusted the sightline from Longo’s row of police to a suite of Thomas Struth photographs in the next room that show flanks of museum visitors gazing up at Michelangelo’s sculpture of David.
The Broads have always had a preference for large works, and it took five handlers and a hydraulic lift to move the Longo into place. Some disaster aversion is intuition, but there are “things you don’t know until it happens,” Gambill says — like a cargo-plane flight on which she was assured that Koons’s works would be far from any liquids or food, only to have the art placed next to ten horses. “Everybody is very, very interested in behind the scenes,” Gambill says. But when you work at a museum “you start to go into institutions and you go, ‘Oh, what’s the temperature and humidity in here? How did they hang it? Is it hanging on a plate?’ In a way, it kind of takes away from the mystical quality of the artwork.”