Friday, April 08, 2011

Eli Broad: Masterpieces, Money and Monuments

Here's a quote I read a long time ago in a musician's union newspaper.  To me it seemed obviously true.
Play for the masses, eat with the classes.  Play for the classes, eat with the masses.
In other words, a musician who creates for an elite audience (the classes) should not expect to get rich.  But a musician with millions of listeners (the masses) could earn a lot of money.  Here's a list of the 10 richest musicians.  (Number one was a Beatle once, number two is a Country and Western star.)

These days even the richest musician doesn't have a Billion Dollars.  Few creative types accumulate that much wealth - J.K. Rowling just barely makes the billionaire list.  George Lucas and Steven Spielberg qualify.  (Here's a list of ALL the world's billionaires.)

A fundamental tenant of capitalism is that the people with the talent and passion for making money are allowed to gather as much of it as they can.  Once they have it, they're free to do anything they want with it.  Some choose to support arts institutions.  Museums (a category which includes orchestras and opera companies), even the ones nominally supported by public money, would perish without big chunks of private cash from people with money to burn.  Nothing new here.  This has been going on since the invention of rich people.  Top down funding of the arts is a fact of life.

Here in Los Angeles, one name dominates art philanthropy - Eli Broad.  In his career he has made not one but two piles of money, first in real estate and then in finance.  He's number 173 on that list of the world's richest humans.  These days Eli spends his time giving his money away in the realms of science and education as well as art.

Many Los Angeles arts institutions have gratefully endured the sting of Eli Broad's money.  Here's a New York Times interactive map showing locations of his munificence in L.A.
Last year the New York Times described Eli Broad:
Every American city has its power brokers, but only Los Angeles has an Eli Broad. Mr. Broad dominates the arts here with a force that has no parallel in any major city. Los Angeles would literally not look the same had Mr. Broad not chosen it as his home 40 years ago, and his business-focused method of managing his giving has earned him a reputation as both a genius and a despot.
Recently the Los Angeles Times published an interview with Eli Broad in which he discussed his art patronage.  Here's the opening paragraph:
Eli Broad is not known for being effusive, not even when talking about one of his greatest passions: collecting contemporary art. The billionaire philanthropist generally seems more comfortable talking about museum buildings than about the artworks that go inside them.

Since the arts community in Los Angeles will undoubtedly feel the effect of Eli Broad's money for generations to come, I feel like it's a good idea to pay some heed to what he talks about.  (Remember, at Mixed Meters quotes are always in purple.  All the following quotes in this post are directly from Eli Broad.) 

His stated motivations for collecting art and building museums surprise me.  I guess I expected him to mouth nostrums about the transformative power of art or pablum about making great art accessible to everyone.  I couldn't find anything like that, although it's doubtful he would actually disagree with such common wisdom.  Instead he talks a lot about hanging out with artists. Here's a quote from an interview with Charlie Rose:
I enjoy contemporary art because it's the art of our times.  I love the artists.  I find it invigorating to spend time with artists.  They have a different view of society than most business people do.
The next three quotes are from the Times article.  
My first career was in public accounting, ... so if I look at a spreadsheet I understand it quickly.  Numbers are hard and fast.  But it's a very different process looking at a work of art or visiting with an artist.  It's hard to explain your emotions when you see a work of art.
The reliance on numbers makes me wonder why Eli doesn't seem to have much interest in contemporary music - which, of course, is also "the art of our times".  Music is constructed largely out of numbers - rhythms, intervals, scales are all reducible to numbers.  But understanding a spreadsheet (i.e. money) and understanding a symphony (i.e. art) require different forms of perception.   I also wonder whether he finds it invigorating to hang out with composers.

He's clearly a practical man.  When asked how much he has spent on his art collection, he replied:
I don't know the exact number, whether it's $200 or $400 million, but it's probably closer to the latter.  If you ask me what it's worth, I've heard numbers that approach $2 billion, which blows my mind because I'm seeing all that happens then is that our insurance costs go up.
By any measure, he's a great success.  Here's how he described what it means to be a "successful" collector:
If I had to do it over again, I would buy some of the great work that I saw people like David Geffen buy several years ago for what I thought was an awful lot of money - like the Johns 'Target' he had.  I was too disciplined then.  I didn't have the money. ... Well, I had the money, but I wasn't prepared to spend $10 million for a great painting. ... To be a successful bidder means you're willing to pay more than anyone else in the world.  I don't know if I would call that a success.
This L.A. Times article gave impressions of what Eli Broad's vision for art in Los Angeles really is.  Clearly it involves two things: the actual monetary value of the objects which he has acquired combined with placing those objects on display for others to envy and enjoy.  The fact that these valuable objects of art might be culturally meaningful in some non-monetary sense, if indeed they are, doesn't seem terribly important to him. 

Eli Broad has used his money to serve the community of Los Angeles according to this vision.  Los Angeles ought to honor him in some way for that service.  In olden days great men, generally war heroes, were honored with statues astride a horse.  These days government doesn't have money to commission statues - even if there were artists who could recognizably execute such a piece.  Instead of art, governments have resorted to renaming streets or intersections after deserving gentlemen.  Los Angeles could honor Eli Broad by renaming Broadway, all twenty-some miles of it, after him.  It wouldn't cost a penny.  We would just start pronouncing the street name differently.

But great men of contemporary Los Angeles, those with sinful quantities of money, want more than a street name.  They want art museums with their names attached.  These days hardly anyone would remember Norton Simon, Armand Hammer, J. Paul Getty or Henry Huntington were it not for their eponymous galleries.  Decades hence who will remember Eli Broad except as just another one of those old rich guys who could afford to buy himself an art museum?

Here's an article listing other living billionaires who own their own art museums.

Here's an L.A.Times article about similarities between Norton Simon and Eli Broad.

Here's a timeline of art history - mostly museums - in Los Angeles, 1927-1999.  It contains this fascinating tidbit:  
1951 The Los Angeles City Council decrees that modern art is Communist propaganda and bans its public display, but the ordinance has little effect.
A related MM post about art collecting: Our Culture Overvalues the Wrong Things

Related MM posts about rich people:
The one previous MM reference to Eli Broad which also mentions monuments.

Here's a tribute to Eli Broad which I found on YouTube.  It's a music video which features a singing Eli Broad lookalike.  There are no credits or any indication of exactly what the reasons for this particular encomium for Mr. Broad might be.  The tune is hackneyed and repetitive but still somewhat Randy Newman-esque.  Watch for yourself.

Here's a Flickr page with still shots from this production.

There are other related videos: an invite to Eli's birthday party and a behind the scenes video from same:


Broad Tags: . . . . . . . . .


Kraig Grady said...

now if only he would fund the likes of an greatly expanded monday evening concerts. But i am sure he is tired of hearing from other people how to spend his money,

Daniel Wolf said...

Gordon Getty composes and is a billionaire, the late Paul Sacher was a conductor as well as a billionaire, and von Karajan was said to be worth an even billion at the time of his death, so sometimes even musicians stumble (or are born or marry) into big money.

David Ocker said...

Daniel - Gordon was born to it and Paul married it. What was Herb's story - did he actually earn a billion dollars from conducting?

I remember references to Paul McCartney being worth over a billion - but all the current estimates I found are less. So maybe there has never actually been a musician who has earned a billion dollars through his or her music.

Daniel Wolf said...

Karajan was the major profit center for Deutsche Grammaphon and later had a tight business relationship with Sony and his contracts included stock, options, profit participation, etc.. Given the developments in both companies, I don't know that the estate or foundation is worth as much today as at his death, and given that these were Swiss construction it's unlikely we'll ever know. But, yes, the guy earned serious money from conducting. (And it makes me happier than you can know to realize that I've never spent a penny on a Karajan recording.)