Sue Scott Gallery

Eyes Open Wider: The Collection of Edward Broida

Sue Scott

Eyes Open Wider: The Collection of Edward Broida

 

THE BEGINNING

On October 5, 1978, Ed Broida with his former wife, Joyce, visited McKee Gallery in New York on the advice of his uncle, Sydney Feldman. A collector himself, Feldman knew the added dimensions that collecting art had brought to his own life. He felt that his nephew, an architect and recently retired real estate developer in Los Angeles, was primed for the experience. Since Feldman had bought a few fine works at McKee Gallery, he felt it was a good place to start.

By chance, McKee Gallery was featuring a retrospective of the drawings of Philip Guston, and Broida, with his training in architecture, responded not only to the drawn line but to the boldness of the work. Renee and David McKee were struck by his confidence and open-mindedness, and they showed him a number of large Guston paintings. After many hours of looking, talking, and thinking, Broida purchased Source, 1976 and Rug, 1976, two very large and challenging paintings. Aptly named, Source is a portrait of Guston's wife, Musa, rising out of the horizon like some giant sunburst with her eyes open wide. Rug is easily as tough for the uninitiated, a group of skinny legs, knobby knees, and shoes resting on a rug and wooden floor. "I got stuck on shoes," Guston once said."Shoes on the floor. I must have done hundreds of paintings of shoes.... And the more I did, the more mysterious these objects became." (1)

A novice to the art world, Broida had no background on Guston and consequently no baggage or expectations from the artist's earlier abstractions. He was able to respond directly to the strength of these paintings. "The more unusual the work, the more he seemed to accept and enjoy the breadth of Guston's imagination," recalled David McKee. "Whatever it was that Philip put into it, he seemed to continue the process. Appreciating it. And art needs that process to occur.” (2)

Again by chance, Philip Guston came that day to the gallery, which he rarely did unannounced. It was at a time when his figurative paintings were not selling well, and he was surprised and thrilled to find out that someone, unknown to him, had just purchased two paintings. A bottle of whiskey was found in a drawer in the back room and, as Broida recollects, they sat on the floor in the gallery passing the bottle around in celebration. "I can remember Philip saying, 'It's so wonderful, he gets it,'" said McKee. "It was obvious everybody was connected. It cemented something." For Guston, "getting it" translated as an innate understanding of what he was trying to do. "I think that probably the most potent desire for a painter, an image-maker, is to see it," he once said, "to see what the mind can think and imagine, to realize it for oneself, through oneself, as concretely as possible” (3)

Before day's end, Broida had also purchased a painting by Katherine Porter. He came back the following morning to buy four Guston drawings before returning to Los Angeles. It was during this visit to New York that Broida mentioned how much he liked one of the small sculptures in his Uncle Syd's apartment. McKee knew the work and said he would keep an eye out. Within two weeks, Broida received a letter saying that a sculpture by the same artist was coming up at auction, and he should consider bidding on it. The sculpture was Jurassic Bird by David Smith. A picture of it was on the cover of the auction catalogue. Although Broida immediately fell in love with it, he also worried that it was too much too fast. The price was twice what he had spent on a Guston painting, and he didn't know who Smith was. After several sleepless nights, he called the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and was connected to Stephanie Barron in the Contemporary Art Department. He explained his earlier purchases and his current dilemma, and asked her if she had ever heard of an artist named David Smith. "She could have killed me at that moment I was so fragile," remembered Broida. ''I've thanked her so many times that she didn't destroy me. Instead, she proceeded to tell me who he was and the importance of his work, and I knew I was on safe ground." Broida purchased the sculpture at auction, and from that moment on he moved forward with more confidence.

THE COLLECTION

These two experience, in a sense, encapsulate Broida's approach to collecting, which is based both on intuitive response and in-depth analysis. "Ed is passionate and intuitive," said Renee McKee. "But he's also logical and reasoned. It's not just a gut reaction; it's a very studied reaction." This catholic sensibility, penchant for analysis, and as artist Bob Kane pointed out, "an extremely developed eye," (5) has enabled him to put together a collection numbering over six hundred works during the last nineteen years that is marked not only by diversity of style and medium, but by radical variations in size and scale. Works in this collection span the century from a Brancusi Kiss completed in 1908 to a 1997 sculpture by Peter Shelton. The works vary in size from a small Leger drawing to Mark Di Suvero's Mahatma with its thirty-foot span. There are both established masters and lesser-known young and mid-career artists. There is abstraction and realism as well as variations on the two. The aesthetic ranges from Carl Andre's minimalist floor piece to the brightly colored exuberance of Pierre Alechinsky and Bob Kane to a crocheted umbrella by Valerie Favre. Some artists have a single representation of their work. Others, like Claes Oldenburg, Vija Celmins, Joel Shapiro, Mark Di Suvero, Jake Berthot, Jonathan Borofsky, and Philip Guston, are collected in-depth. No single movement is focused on and few are excluded; one can find examples of Pop art, Neo-Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and artists who defy categorization.

As a result of this diversity, it is difficult if not impossible to categorize or qualify Broida's collection. The aesthetic that ties the works together is more ethereal than tangible, more visual than intellectual. Still, there are common threads that run through the collection and one cannot help but look.

An obvious beginning is the work of Philip Guston, which Broida continued to collect obsessively from the first day he was introduced to his work. He is one of several artists whom Broida collected backwards, later adding a 1938 painting entitled Gladiators, a stylized rendition of children fighting that recalls Picasso's Guernica (6), as well as two abstract paintings Zone, 1953-54 and The Mirror, 1957. Zone, with its figure/ground delineation and central webbed mass of paint is a subtle harbinger of Guston's later, figurative paintings.

From the moment Broida and Guston met in McKee Galley in 1978, they established a friendship that was to continue until Guston's untimely death in 1980. On numerous occasions, Broida visited Guston at his home and studio in Woodstock, New York. He sometimes bought en masse. On one visit he sat quietly with Guston, each in a chair, a table with a bottle of wine between them, as an assistant brought in painting after painting for them to view. Little was said, but the following day Broida appeared at McKee Gallery with a list of five paintings he wanted: A Day’s Work, 1970, Midnight Pass Road, 1975, Web, 1975, Green Rug, 1976, and Ladder, 1978. He tried several times to buy a 1976 painting entitled Cherries, but Guston repeatedly resisted. Then, on one trip upstate with the McKees, they stopped to buy provisions for a picnic where Broida happened on a flat of cherries displayed in the window. He bought the entire flat and presented it to Guston upon their arrival. By the end of the day, Cherries was his. He continued to buy paintings, prints, and drawings and soon became known as "The Guston Man." On numerous occasions Guston himself introduced Broida as "My Arensburg" in reference to Walter Arensburg, the Los Angeles collector and patron of Marcel Duchamp.

Whether it was Broida's own eye and training in architecture, or the effect of collecting so many of Guston's works in a relatively short time, one can see throughout his collection Guston's aesthetic—a love for the painterly, a thick build-up of paint, and a strong internal structure. As Renee McKee pointed out, "There is something of the sculptural in many of his paintings and something linear in his sculptures." This is particularly apparent in the fragmented canvas of Elizabeth Murray's More Than You Know, 1983, one of her earliest shaped and painted canvases. "Philip Guston would be the artist I would think about more than Cezanne," Murray once noted in an interview. "When I was doing the shoe paintings it hit me like a ton of bricks just how much I owe to Guston." (7) Tad Wiley's shaped and painted wall sculpture Ware Eater, 1987 and Jill Giegerich's Untitled (Figure witb Arcb of Industry), 1983 also share these qualities. Broida's love for the plastic surface is as apparent in smaller paintings such as Melissa Meyer's Ophelia, 1985, Spencer Gregory's Underneath, 1986-87, and Alfred Jenson's Interval in Six Scales, 1963, as it is in the larger, gestural works by Neil Jenney and the monumental painterly geometric abstractions of Sean Scully.

Susan Rothenberg has said that her paintings come right out of the targets of Jasper Johns, but one can also see Guston's influence in her expressive brushstrokes and use of imagery-fragmented heads and hands and myriad variations of the horse. Like Guston, the images come from an intuitive place. "The way the horse image appeared in my paintings was not an intellectual procedure," she said; "most of my work is not run through a rational part of my brain. It comes from a place in me that I don't choose to examine. I just let it come. I don't have any special affection for the horse. A terrific cypress will do it for me too. But I knew that the horse is a powerful, recognizable thing, and that it would take care of my need for an image." (8) Two of Rothenberg's paintings in Broida's collection, Tripbammer Bridge, 1974 and Black in Place, 1976, are prototypes from this period. Perhaps even more telling is Rothenberg's naming of a 1985-86 lithograph printed at ULAE, Stumblebum, referencing Hilton Kramer's derisive moniker given during a review of Guston's figurative works from the 1970s.

Jake Berthot is an artist whose work Broida supported early on and has continued to collect over the years. Because the works in this selection range from 1971 to 1997, one has the opportunity to trace the development and growth of this "painter's painter." Greenpoint, 1971, for instance, is minimal in its aesthetic, and yet one experiences the artist's love for surface, color, and texture. In Anawanda, 1985 Berthot contrasts field painting with gesture, exploring what lies below the surface (he once said he painted a certain painting to "get to that red, that green, that orange”) (9), while in Nymph, 1991 the play seems to be more about the relationship of figure and ground. These works point the way to his most recent work Off Lower Bone Hollow, 1997. Preceded by a move from New York City to the country, this painting, a landscape, is a departure for Berthot, but like his earlier work is a sumptuous study in color and composition.

Broida's collection is an organic outgrowth, the result of buying what he liked when he saw it, regardless of the whims of the art world. However, there is one aspect of his collection that was more studied. The idea, encouraged by McKees, was to collect a few choice historical pieces that would help make sense of a contemporary collection. In addition to the early Gustons, there are several key examples of Abstract Expressionism. Prime among them are Mark Rothko's Homage to Matisse, 1954, a glowing field of orange and blue, and two paintings by Franz Kline, which together show his two sides: the black and white of Luzerne, 1956 and Washington Wall, 1959, a painting with color gracing the black structure.

Kline is an artist whose work was known to and admired by Broida from his college days, probably because of the inherent architectonic qualities of the paintings. He was determined, if possible, that Kline would be one of the artists he would collect, and as it turned out, Kline was one of the few artists he pursued in earnest. Early in his collecting career, Broida attended an exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. entitled Kline In Color. During the exhibition, Broida fell in love with Washington Wall. The painting was owned by a Washington, D.C. collector who was unwilling to sell, but Broida, through David McKee, expressed his continued interest and within a year the painting was his.

A number of the more historic sculptures, Jean Arp’s Sculpture de Silence Corneille, 1942-64; Henri Laurens's Le Matin. 1944: Joan Miro's Femme Verte, 1968: Barbara Hepworth's Figure (Ascending Form), 1956: and Jacques Lipchitz’s Benediction I, reveal much about the tug-of-war between figuration and abstraction that sculpture experienced during the latter half of the twentieth century. Constantin Brancusi engaged in this tug-of-war while working with primal shapes—the egg, the cone, the circle, the square—and experimenting with and juxtaposing a variety of materials. The Kiss 1907-08, is not only quintessential Brancusi, but as the earliest work in the collection, seems to be a paradigm for many of the sculptures Broida collected.

Bryan Hunt cites Brancusi as one of his fundamental influences, particularly for his bronze lakes which resemble in conformation and aesthetics Brancusi's wooden cups. Like the cups, Hunt's waterfalls and airships are simultaneously objects and sculptural forms. If it was the primal shapes of Minimalists such as Carl Andre and Robert Morris (both have works in this exhibition) that inspired the young Martin Puryear, one can also see in his work references to Brancusi with his fusion of folk craft and the historical tradition of sculpture. Puryear's sculpture in this exhibition, Verge, 1987 is at once referential—one thinks of a giant clunky shoe or a pipe—and abstract in configuration. Likewise, in the freestanding columns and the curved or serrated wall sculptures of John Duff one can see, or more to the point, feel, the effect of the primal shapes of Brancusi.

Christopher Wilmarth was also tremendously affected by Brancusi, as much conceptually as formally. As Laura Rosenstock, curator of Wilmarth's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, noted in her essay, "Brancusi's love of rough-hewn wood, his tendency to conjoin wood with polished metal or stone, and his infusion of metaphysical significance into simple reductive forms had a strong impact on Wilmarth. (10) In most of his works included in this exhibition, from the monumental Tina Turner, 1970-71 to the more subtle Baptiste (Longinq) #2, 1984, with its ovoid forms recalling Brancusi's Sleeping Muse, it is the poetry of light that he seeks to convey. Brancusi once said, "My hands are the last hands to touch my work.” (11) Wilmarth's sculpture Last Hands, 1969 is not only a marked reference to this statement, but as it was created during a time when Conceptual and Minimal art were the reigning styles, it stands as an homage to sculpture where the hand of the artist is very much in evidence.

One of England's most well-known sculptors, David Nash, brings a new insight to the use of natural materials. Early in his career he carved wooden planks, later evolving to the use of entire tree trunks and limbs which he would often carve in situ. The three sculptures by Nash in this exhibition reveal the full spectrum of shapes and conceptual references he is able to coax from a single tree. Black Column, 1983, made of burnt sycamore, brings to mind the Endless Column of Brancusi; Rising Boat, 1986 evokes the movement of a ship while Three Cogs, 1987 is a conceptual conundrum referencing industry in its shape and nature in its material.

Obviously not all the sculptors in Broida's collection come from the lineage of Constantin Brancusi. Mark Di Suvero, for instance, is closer to the welded steel tradition of Julio Gonzalez (in fact one of his sculptures is titled Homage to Gonzalez, 1973) and David Smith. Di Suvero's vocabulary of industrial materials—I beams, steel, rubber tires, found objects, and wood—has resulted in a body of work that is as diverse and fantastic as any sculpture produced in the twentieth century. Broida's collection, which has the most in-depth holding of work by Di Suvero in the country, is unique in that it enables the viewer to comprehend the diversity of Di Suvero's work. Compare, for example, the 1961 work Eatherly’s Lamp to Mahatma, 1978-79. Eatherly’s Lamp is a small pedestal piece, lit from within and resembling some weird archaic artifact (Eatherly was the bombardier on the Enola Gay), while Mahatma is a giant steel toy that balances, rocks, and turns 360 degrees on a single I beam column. As diverse as these two works may seem, the aesthetic of whimsy or storytelling as well as a transformation of materials, is encoded into both and is a thread that weaves through much of Di Suvero's work.

A number of artists continue the figurative tradition of sculpture. Peter Shelton, influenced by David Smith probably more than any other artist, is interested both in the body and architecture, often focusing on the way the body occupies space. In allarms, 1990-96, for instance, two spindly arms snake out of a trunk-like torso, reaching ten feet in opposite directions. As a result, this somewhat minimal piece can be read on many different levels, from the humorous undertones to the play between realism and abstraction to the notion of how something small, when projected into space, can occupy the same area as a larger counterpart. Likewise, Jonathan Borofsky mines the human figure and psyche for its inherent humor and social commentary. His figures, flying, fighting, or dancing as clowns, are the ordinary made extraordinary.

Daisy Youngblood also works somewhere in between abstraction and realism, her sculptures of animals are as beautiful for their abstract qualities of surface and composition as for the emotions they communicate. Youngblood often works in low-fire clay, a medium that conveys an ancient quality to the pieces, as if they are as much about ritual as representation. Like Youngblood's animal sculptures, Judith Shea's empty bathing suit in The Crawl, 1983 exists as a stand-in, a surrogate for that which is not present.

The two sculptures in this exhibition by William Tucker indicate the extraordinary distance an artist can travel within the context of his own work. Seen together they reveal an interest both in the figure and the place of the figure. The House of the Hanged Man, 1981, made from wood salvaged from a used ventilator system on the top of Tucker's studio, is both a structure and a line drawing in space. Gymnast II, 1985 is a study in balance and movement with its off-axis v-shape bringing to mind a torso, not just bent, but in the act of bending. The surface treatment, modeled and gestural, covers the bronze with a skin-like veneer, a softness belying the solidity of the bronze.

Minimalism is an aesthetic one would not necessarily ascribe to Broida's sensibility, and yet there are some exceptional examples of Minimalism in this collection, among them Carl Andre's 64 Steel Square, 1967, made from squares of hot rolled steel. Andre rejected both the pedestal and upward thrust of traditional sculpture, unlike one of his counterparts, Joel Shapiro, who embraced a reductive version of the human form.

Shapiro's many permutations of the figure, running, standing, falling, headless, or simply a torso, are studies in essential form. In her floor sculpture, Stevens’ Bouquet, 1991, Roni Horn riffs on both Minimal and Conceptual art by not only paring down the "flowers" to aluminum forms but by "naming" their colors—yellow, black, red, orange, white, and pink.

Expressive figuration is another loose grouping into which a number of artists in Broida's collection can be placed. Many are international. The German artist Horst Antes, who sees himself as an anthropologist of his own imagination, created his own brand of figuration called the "gnome people." Rendered in heightened colors, these characters, two of which occupy the painting Mother and Child, 1973-74, have such a distinct physiognomy they seem to have a shared gene pool. Represented here by his signature work, Francis Bacon gives full reign to his sense of line and composition in Two Figures, 1961. This leading master of London's figurative school shows a painterly ease of brushstroke that defines his paintings from this period. Katherine Porter casts her expressive eye for brushstroke and composition on the city. The City at Night, 1983 reflects an ongoing theme for Porter, a simultaneous love for the city and a commentary on the disharmony with nature found in city dwelling.

Pop art is a movement that has little representation in Broida 's collection, except for the work of Claes Oldenburg, which he collected in depth. Model: Rope Garden, 1969 has the wonderful raw edge of material and form found in many of Oldenburg's early works when he was still working his way out of Abstract Expressionism to the coolness of Pop art. It is not surprising that Broida, a great baseball fan, collected three Oldenburg works—two bats, a standing batcolumn, and a mitt and glove—on that theme.

Vija’s Celmins's early 1960s paintings of objects from her studio—a hot plate, lamp, or heater—resulted in critics associating her with California Pop artists like Ed Ruscha  and Joe Good. Since then, she has gone on to create works so original in concept and execution, it is difficult, if not impossible, to place her work in a specific category. Broida's idea of collecting an artist in-depth is not just about quantity, it is about having representation from all periods of an artist's oeuvre. His extensive holdings of Celmins's work—ranging from the early objects and realistic paintings of airplanes and guns to drawings of the ocean and paintings of the galaxy—clearly illustrate this philosophy. The sculptural piece To Fix the Image in Memory, 1977-82, is one of Celmins's masterpieces and encapsulates her approach to art making. By juxtaposing real rocks collected in New Mexico with identical objects made from cast bronze (not unlike Johns's cast bronze ale cans), she forces the viewer to both look and see, to compare that which is real to that which is man-made. “Part of the challenge of exhibiting them together with the real stones was to create a challenge for your eyes," she has said “I wanted your eyes to open wider.” (12)

CONCLUSION

By 1982 Broida's collection had grown to mammoth proportions, and he began making plans to open a museum In New York City. He bought a building in SoHo in December of 1982 and moved to New York in the spring of the next year. For close to three and a half years, he worked nonstop to open the museum, but for myriad reasons and complications, it was not to be realized, and he stopped the operation in March of 1986. Although he has continued to lend to exhibitions around the world, this is the first time a selection of works from his collection has been exhibited together. It represents just over one-fourth of his holdings.

The evolution of Ed Broida's collection, like his collecting habits, continues to be both intuitive and unplanned. From the moment he purchased his first Guston painting to his most recent purchases—a Berthot landscape and a small Di Suvero sculpture among them—he has bought what he liked, driven neither by the art market nor current trends. "One aspect of collecting contemporary art is problem solving," he once said. This philosophy has enabled him to collect regardless of physical considerations of storage or display and allowed him to envision the possibilities of this exhibition.

For Broida, collecting is not just about acquiring. It reflects a lifetime commitment. "Collecting changes your life," he said recently, "your friends, events in your home town. Even the reason for your travel changes. It is something that, once you get the bug, once you're bitten, you'll do it until you die. It's a vocation and an avocation, all wrapped up into one. It's remained an important part of my life. Uncle Syd was right."

 

-Sue Scott

Adjunct Curator of Contemporary American Art

 

 

 

1. Christine Stiles and Peter Selz, eds., Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. A Sourcebook of Artist’s Writings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 250.

2. All quotes from Renee and David McKee are from interview with the author on November 4, 1997.

3. Stiles and Selz, p. 250.

4. All quotes from Ed Broida are from an interview with the author on November 6, 1997.

5. All quotes from Bob Kane are from an interview with the author on November 3, 1997.

6. Dore Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), p. 47.

7. Joan Simon, An Interview with Elizabeth Murray (New York: Pace Wildenstein Gallery, 1997), n.p.

8. Stiles and Selz, p. 264.

9. Dore Ashton, Jake Berthot (New York: David McKee, Inc., 1982), n.p.

10. Laura Rosenstock, Chrutopher Wilmarth (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1989), p. 11.

11. Ibid.

12. Chuck Close with William S. Bartman, eds., An Interview with Vlia Celmins (New York: Art Press, 1992), p. 17.

 

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