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An Artist's Look at Eli Broad's Last-Second Sucker Punch of Michael Govan and the L.A. County Museum of Art

Eric Fischl (left), Michael Govan (center), and Eli Broad (right) at the Broad Museum's opening.Photos: WireImage (Govan); Getty Images

Last weekend's opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had all the makings of Cecil B. DeMille movie — grand scale, palace intrigue, and wads and wads of cash. "The only thing missing was the human sacrifice," says Eric Fischl, who had one of his paintings on view at the new space. "It was really a spectacle, only Hollywood could pull it off." Eli Broad, the weather-making billionaire art collector who gave his name, loans of art, and $60 million to the new museum, had for years led LACMA director Michael Govan to believe that the permanent gift of his contemporary-art collection would follow the building's unveiling — only to coquettishly announce at the last moment that he didn't feel like committing to any one museum, instead preferring to keep his art in an open-ended lending foundation. (His stated rationale was that LACMA didn't have the space to keep his 2,000-some works on constant display.)

Broad's sudden shift, which the collector casually dropped in a conversation with the New York Times prior to the museum's opening, cast a shadow over the proceedings, Fischl said. "Everybody's kind of going, 'How did that happen?'" Fischl said. "It just seemed like such a sucker punch." He added that speculation at the opening centered on whether the widely respected Govan — who previously headed the Dia Art Foundation in New York — will stick around at LACMA for much longer in view of the slight; that Govan is considered a candidate to replace Philippe de Montebello added to the buzzing.

But Fischl gallantly acknowledged that he was no authority on art bigwigs or their motivations. "That's a part of the business I don't know much about," he said. "I endlessly insult people who are powerful because I keep forgetting who the fuck they are." In L.A., for instance, he made the mistake of reintroducing himself to L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art director Jeremy Strick. "I'd met him many times over the years, so oops," Fischl said. Is this something museum directors chalk up to the artistic temperament? "They could think I'm the biggest snob or asshole or idiot, who knows," said Fischl. "All of it true. So, you know." —Andrew M. Goldstein