The latest debutante in L.A.’s art scene, the Broad museum, won’t officially open until September 20th, when it finally puts philanthropist Eli Broad’s vast collection of contemporary art on public display. But like any good showman, Broad offered a calling card over the weekend with an au natural preview of the much-anticipated art citadel. The one-day event, dubbed Sky-lit, let throngs of eager Angelenos peer behind the museum’s honeycomb façade to behold a sight few will see after Sunday: The Broad’s 35,000-square-foot main gallery, sans walls, sans columns, in all of its raw, cavernous glory.
Having lived down the street throughout the Broad’s long construction, I couldn’t miss the opportunity. Wending my way past concrete barriers still protecting the Broad from Grand Avenue, I signed the obligatory paperwork accepting the inherent dangers of an active construction site and caught a ride on the Broad’s elephantine loading elevator. (Apparently now the biggest elevator in Los Angeles, it was built specifically for the largest work in Eli Broad’s collection, Ellsworth Kelly's Green Angle.) It was a clever piece of drama that felt half-cribbed from Jurassic Park. Still, when the elevator opened its gate, everyone let out a unitary gasp.
How do you explain that mere unconstructed emptiness itself could prick an involuntary reflex? It had to be the sun. Natural light all but drips from a roof of myriad skylights and a curving white lattice. The overall impression was both monumental and meditative, as if you’ve stumbled across some grand chapel dreamt by James Turrell; drifting over the half-polished concrete felt like scuttling around the bottom of an ethereal ocean of illumination. The gauzy atmosphere also gave an otherworldly cast to the two installations: BJ Nilsen’s DTLA, a 16-channel soundscape broadcast street sounds from all over the revitalized downtown; after sunset, the gallery’s LED lighting came on and Yann Novak’s Stillness washed the back wall in light evoking the fading glow of a SoCal sunset. But the installations served more to provide a sensory frame for all that negative space.
It took just a few moments to “experience” Sky-lit; yet, I didn’t see anyone dare leave after so little time. As I soaked it all in, the sound that came to dominate the room was the cacophony of us visitors: curious heels clicking on concrete, awed children whirling and ranging across the unhindered space, and the susurrous throb of collective anticipation. Once you closed your eyes and let yourself submerge into the center of that pure volume, The Broad’s temporary Nothing was truly something to behold.