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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Li

Christmas Eve at The Broad

Updated: May 22

December 24, 2022


Stepping into the open air, we turned around and craned our necks upwards to marvel at The Broad's architecture. There was a stunning photographic contrast between the angular corners of the building and the fluid (figure 5, image on the left), beehive lattice of its exterior and between the sparkling white color and the cloudless cobalt sky (figure 1) As we enter, we find ourselves as if proceeding through a prehistoric cave, searching for mysterious art on its walls. From the large lobby to a narrow, dark escalator tunnel (figure 5, image on the right) to the immense galleries on the third floor (figure 6), there is an ever-present compression and expansion of space. After ascending to the third floor, where the current exhibited works are displayed, we find ourselves in a single room. Galleries are not separated by cubicles but by walls, allowing us to flow through the entire collection naturally. Another successful architectural choice was the gridded ceiling that allowed the artworks below it to be lit by sunlight. The bright, artificial colors of paintings, coupled with the bluish glow of natural light, situate the viewer in a hallucinogenic and unreal dream state, which further attracts one into the exotic world of contemporary art.


Figure 1: Photo taken by me of the front side of The Broad building


Photographs


Figure 2: Photo taken by me of the space of the walk-space between the facade of the architecture and The Broad building


Figure 3: Photo taken by me of two works by Ellsworth Kelly


Figure 4: Photo taken and edited by me of the skyscraper behind the entrance corner of The Broad museum


Figure 5: Photo taken by me of the entrance corner of The Broad museum (left) and the main escalator leading up the main galleries (right)


Figure 6: Photo taken by me of The Broad galleries


Favorite Works


I immediately gravitated to the most blaring style in sight, Jeff Koons' metallic balloon dog. But as I approached the sculpture, I became increasingly intrigued by the canvases surrounding it –– the lesser-known part of Koon's oeuvre. Among them, Couple (figure 7) has the most intricate details to ponder about. What initially appeared to be a printed photo collage from a distance turns out to be a hyperrealistic oil painting, creating a juxtaposition between a digital form of expression with a millennium-old traditional painting style. The layer of excessive grease on everything, from the mustard on the pretzel to the woman's hair to the ocean water, conveys a distasteful superficiality and materiality at the core of a modern relationship. Koons ingeniously selects to paint only the couple's hair and clothing, cutting out their bodies, especially their faces and expressions, purposely omitting elements that could convey individuality, personality, and interhuman dynamics. Fancy lunches, making out in public, getting street food while exploring the city, expensive sailboat holidays, and even going to art museums are popular date activities of young couples of our time. However, by representing them in a shallow way, Koons focuses on the secularity and desire at the center of a supposedly emotional connection.


Figure 7: Couple, 2001, Jeff Koons


There is something pure and mesmerizing about this work despite its apparent plainness. From a distance, you can read the street names "GARDNER ST" and "SUNSET BLVD" just above each line. The Sunset-Gardner Cross (figure 8) is also an actual street intersection in Los Angeles, making it very fitting to be displayed at the Broad. Ruscha conceptually condenses the cluttered and bustling LA streets by strong color contrast with orange, yellow, and black, using a textured, stippling method to treat the asphalt and two crossed lines to play on the multiple definitions of intersection. Each pavement marking shrinks in width as it approaches the top of the canvas, generating a two-point perspective plane and, subsequently, the illusion of space. The high position on the canvas of the horizon line implies an intimacy with the ground, making the viewer feel like they are lying down on their stomach in the middle of the road and all the cars have stopped or ceased to exist. Ruscha paints a whole world within the picture plane that his audience can accessibly imagine, a quiet LA where the sunset has moved everyone to stillness.


Figure 8: Sunset-Gardner Cross, 1998-99, Ed Ruscha


A rectangular table circled with six chairs is the most stereotypical image of a dinner table. However, when scaled up four times to the size of ten feet tall, a commonplace object becomes a novel environment (figure 9). There is a surrealistic feeling when one finds themself interlacing around the playground of giant chairs and table legs that bring about a childlike joy. The artist Robert Therrien created this work to evoke a collective memory of crawling under the table as a child, hiding under it as if it were a tent, and observing the adults' different shoes and body language. Under the Table also reminds me of a scene in Alice in Wonderland where Alice drinks from a bottle labeled "Drink Me" and shrinks to the size of a tiny door with the initially normally-sized table towering over her. In a way, being instantly teleported back to childhood is a magical adventure in itself.


Figure 9: Under the Table, 1994, Robert Therrien


Standing under this larger-than-life tapestry (figure 10) I feel a great sense of awe. On the first level, I enjoy the shimmering scales of the work and the occasional use of yellow, blue, or black within the rich red color to recreate the texture of woven natural fibers. I admire the great craftsmanship and patience that went into linking each piece of aluminum together to make this work of art fabric-like. El Anatsui created his most iconic series of works with recycled pieces of metal that resemble kente cloth, or more broadly, African textiles, which have functions that range from historical documentation, commemoration for a person or event, conveying cultural information, and other ceremonial purposes. Using pieces of red liquor cans to create a traditional fabric, Anatsui invites us to contemplate the impact of globalization, colonialism, alcoholism, poverty, and many other phenomena on the continent and its peoples.


Figure 10: Red Block, 1969, El Anatsui


One of the qualities of Julie Mehtru's art is how she creates elegance and rhythm in from chaos. Cairo (figure 11) reminded me of long scrolls of traditional Chinese landscape paintings, with the trees abstractly scribbled on floating mountain tops resting on a river in the negative space left for the viewer to imagine. The swirling movement and shifting density of brushstrokes also resemble schools of fish swimming in formation, pulsating like a single sea creature. On a closer look, one can observe approximately three layers in this painting. The base layer is the background drawing of Cairo's architecture, with every line exact and emotionless, like a blueprint or 3D model. The middle layer is the expressive brushwork, applied with more variation in line and enthusiasm. Finally, colorful ribbon-like lines dance across the canvas like confetti, barely noticeable from afar. Mehretu effortlessly combines precision and expressiveness.


Figure 11: Cairo, 2013, Julie Mehretu


Over a year ago, I wrote about my favorite series of Monet's work depicting the Rouen Cathedral at different times of the day (see selected works on figure 13) when I visited the Getty Center, also located in Los Angeles (read about my visit here). Thus, I was surprised to find that Roy Lichtenstein, who succeeded Monet by about a century, makes his interpretation, or commercialized parody (figure 12), of Monet's work at The Broad. In fact, Monet is only one of the many famous artists whose works Lichenstein reproduced in the latter's pop art style to "update" an already well-known theme. Ben-day dots are varied in size and shape, clustered based on color, and sometimes misaligned on top of each other to create a fuzzy, tingling sensation. Despite choosing not to paint en plein air, Lichenstein's cathedrals produce a similar effect to Monet's work by imitating how sunlight creates contrast through saturated colors. In addition, Lichenstein's cathedrals lose their form and become a texture, just like how impasto up-close is unrecognizable. Copying themes or subjects have always been prevalent throughout art history, despite the opposite appearing true due to the vast difference in artists' styles and the era of their works.


Figure 12: Rouen Cathedral, Set 3, 1968-69, Roy Lichtenstein


Figure 13: Five of Claude Monet's paintings of the Rouen Cathedral that are the most similar with Lichtenstein's color palettes


Temporary Exhibitions


When I saw the advertisement for the South African artist William Kentridge: In Praise of Shadows on Youtube, I was so enthralled that I watched until the end. The exhibition by far exceeded my already high expectations. Kentridge blurs the line between a traditional artist and an animator by hand-drawing animations using stop motion, making changes on one sheet of paper (figure 14). As a result, objects and animals unconstrainedly morph into each other, reflecting the artist's unlimited creativity.


Figure 14: Extracts of 6 Charcoal Animations by William Kentridge posted by Lillian Art and Art History


Kentridge is also a compelling storyteller. He manages to use visual parallelisms and symbolism only to tell a story without dialogue that is emotionally impactful and alludes to complex political circumstances, particularly the racial conflict and social injustice that he observed in South Africa. I could spend hours watching and rewatching his animations for their drama, tension, and transformative visuals.


Conclusion


The Broad was one of my most memorable museum experiences. The fluidity and irregularity of the museum architecture have an integral role in making the Broad feel like a world-class contemporary art museum. The art-viewing experience here is kept concise and stimulating, exhibiting various works that are diverse and highly representative of modern masters. The art here is loud, bold, politically opinionated, unapologetic, electric, colorful, and dreamy, making this collection unique in that it embodies the culture of the city in which it is located, Los Angeles.


Works Cited


"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 29 Nov. 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland. Accessed 28 Dec. 2022.


"Cairo - Julie Mehretu | The Broad." The Broad, www.thebroad.org/art/julie-mehretu/cairo. Accessed 28 Dec. 2022.


"El Anatsui." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 15 Nov. 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Anatsui. Accessed 28 Dec. 2022.


"The Fabric of Africa." Google Arts & Culture, artsandculture.google.com/story/the-fabric-of-africa-african-heritage-house/MwURIFA_fBjSIA?hl=en. Accessed 28 Dec. 2022.


"Kente Cloth." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 25 Nov. 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kente_cloth. Accessed 28 Dec. 2022.


"William Kentridge." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 6 Dec. 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kentridge. Accessed 28 Dec. 2022.

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