The Broad Art Museum

I can be a total snob.

I don’t mean to, and rarely is it malicious, but my judgmental streak pops out sometimes when I lease expect it.

My prejudices must delight in surprising me. They are so damn good at it.


Yesterday, Bean and I went to the gallery.

We used to do such things all the time — talk a long stroll, wander through a museum, have a cup of tea and saunter home in time for stew and a Poirot (and yes, I am well aware I sound 85. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.)

But since we moved we’ve been busy and I’ve been reluctant.

We lived in central Edinburgh, where a number of world class galleries and museums were at my beckon call and within minutes of my front porch. A few times a year I’d make room for a jaunt to London always squeezing in the British Museum, Tate Modern and other favorite haunts.

Having such amazing institutions at my fingertips (and for free!) meant moving to small-town Midwestia has left my weekends a little bereft.

There are no castles to visit. No 300 year old botanical gardens to wander. No quick-and-dirty dashes through Antiquity or Cubism.

Or so I thought.

Yesterday I was surprised and extremely delighted to discover The Broad (pronounced like ode, not awed).

broad art museum east lansing

Just shy of 18 months old, it’s a custom contemporary arts space in downtown East Lansing, Michigan.

On the campus of the well-respected Michigan State University, one might expect a nice (if small) museum with a couple of lesser works by the conventional “Masters”, a range of historical landscapes, perhaps a smattering of local talent. And arguably, this is what MSU’s Kresge, The Broad’s predecessor, did admirably. I remember visiting the fragments of Roman pottery and single Renaissance portrait as a Girl Scout.


But The Broad is something different. The benefactors for which it is named have included a bequest for creative programming and innovative exhibitions which fill Zaha Hadid’s architecture with luminous ideas and a global outlook.


broad entrance


While I miss the permanent collection of the Kresge, now rolled into the Broad’s extensive stores — and I do hope it finds a more public home eventually — this new space dedicated to outward vision and the changing discourse of contemporary art feels fresh and, well, cosmopolitan.

And here is where my utter snobbery comes in.


broad stairwell


I never expected to find exhibition programming which felt as creative and challenging as Edinburgh’s delightful Fruitmarket Gallery — or somewhere capitalizing on an innovative use of space and theme which I encountered at the Maraya Art Center in Sharjah.

Especially not in little old East Lansing.

The exhibition we saw filled most of the building: Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art. A subject after my own heart, I admit. The local arts paper described it as follows:

“The theme of the exhibit, language- and text-based art, opens up a gigantic can of alphabet soup through which viewers will do a high-concept backstroke, exploring the relationship between language and art. The exhibit will be the first in the world to take a comprehensive look at “conceptual writing,”.

Like most contemporary art exhibitions, 60% at least left me cold, a handful of pieces were genuinely surprising and more than in keeping with my accustomed gallery weekends abroad. A triptych of video art in the basement examining the [literally] changing face of museums (and the line between graphic design, brand, identity and art) was particularly fascinating.

I left feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and more than a little thrilled.


broad interior 2

While still young and learning (the docents were under trained, the cafe bland), The Broad promises to be a hugely influential entity beyond Michigan (and the city is certainly hopeful good things will come from its location).

The curators have a strong vision, the building is well-suited to its purpose – and the custom furniture which follows the slanting walls are a particularly inspired touch. It’s an exciting space – and huge! it’s practically the size of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two (aka the old Dean Gallery), if less conventionally laid out – and there is so much opportunity in its striped and sunny walls I’m rather giddy at the thought.

Though it is, in fact, already head and shoulders above some galleries I’ve known in Europe and beyond…

There is that old prejudice again. As if plain old Michigan couldn’t be capable of sophisticated. As is European by definition meant culturally superior.

I am so terribly, terribly glad to be wrong. I can’t wait to see what The Broad brings us next.


broad logo



2 Responses to “The Broad Art Museum”
  1. Marie says:

    I enjoyed your post but have to shake my head at the Broad. I don’t know if it is the same outside of the US, but I don’t understand why a museum building itself has become more important than the collection it houses.I have to admit I not fond conceptual buildings that dwarf or distract from the art displayed. This is true for libraries in the US as well. I am tired of architects building monuments to themselves rather than the content.Sorry for the whine. 🙂 I prefer your castles. I must be a bit of a luddite where architecture is concerned.



    • smgrady says:

      I take your point, Marie, but in this case I didn’t feel the building’s interior detracted from the displays or content. The unconventional white spaces instead offered tons of natural light and a variety of vantage points which I found hugely valuable. I’m glad the insides were so clean, the showy facade did give me pause when they first started building, too!


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