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In 1984 the philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad created The Broad Art Foundation—a lending library full of exceptional works. In 1989 Joanne Heyler began advising them on their art collection. And in September 2015, when The Broad opened as a contemporary art museum, Heyler oversaw the transition of the private foundation into a public art museum as the founding director.
Next month, “Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth,” the largest survey of the artist’s work ever presented in California, opens at The Broad. Whitewaller spoke to Heyler about the much-anticipated show, the museum’s highly regarded lending library, and more.
WHITEWALLER: Can you tell us a bit about what is included in the upcoming Jasper Johns show?
JOANNE HEYLER: The show will begin with Johns’s famous early images of flags, targets, maps, and numbers, and it will also offer a fresh take on both the early and later work, by illuminating themes Johns has returned to repeatedly and inventively across many media and across multiple decades. Our exhibition will encompass a remarkable 60-year career, demonstrating the sustained vitality of Johns’s artistic practice, including works produced within the past decade.
One painting in the exhibition, Untitled (1975)—an abstract encaustic painting of primary colors on white from the artist’s “Crosshatch” series—holds a story particularly notable for The Broad, because it was one of the earliest acquisitions of contemporary art made by Eli and Edythe Broad when they were first becoming serious collectors. Also on view will be Flag (1967), which is one of our great treasures, normally seen in our third-floor galleries.
WW: Tell us a bit about The Broad Art Foundation’s “lending library,” which you’ve been directing since 1995.
JH: Long ago, I had a college internship at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, where I first became aware of Eli and Edye, having no idea that years later I would come to know and admire them so deeply. Eli was the founding chairman at MOCA. After going abroad and earning a master’s degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London, I returned to Los Angeles and was hired as the assistant curator at The Broad Art Foundation. I had only a few colleagues, and we ran what was then an influential but much simpler operation than the museum I run today. Guided by Eli and Edye’s strong belief in the importance of public access to art, our mission was to build a collection of contemporary art and make that collection available for loan to museums and university galleries around the world.
WW: Within The Broad collection, can you tell us of key works that represent it well?
JH: Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled (1954) is an important example of Rauschenberg’s famous series of “Combine” paintings, in which he used everyday objects like wood, newspaper, and lace. When Eli and Edythe Broad acquired Rauschenberg’s Untitled in 1983, they traded a drawing by Vincent van Gogh, Cabanes à Saintes-Maries (1888), one of the first important works of art they purchased, which they had treasured for years. For the Broads, the acquisition of Untitled by Rauschenberg represents a turning point in their goals as collectors, signaling their increasing attraction to the challenge of contemporary art and ideas.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1981) is a masterwork of this artist’s brief career, and one of the works visitors single out at The Broad and that some connoisseurs of Basquiat’s work consider to be his greatest painting. It is considered by many a self-portrait. Basquiat worked on this painting for months, while most of his paintings were completed over just a few days.
Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Your body is a battleground) (1989) is an iconic, feminist work in The Broad collection. Untitled (Your body is a battleground) was produced by Kruger for the 1989 Women’s March on Washington in support of reproductive freedom, but the declaration is timeless.