There’s more to Los Angeles than Hollywood moments and tourist-packed theme parks.
Los Angeles had its place in the sun all sorted. Hollywood Boulevard. Rodeo Drive. Universal Studios. A visit to Los Angeles centred on star spotting, shopping and thrillseeking. It was flashy and it was fun. If you wanted culture, you went to New York, right?
Not any more. The City of Angels has undergone a remarkable transformation. Though it’s still largely known for producing blockbuster films, it now houses one of the biggest creative communities in the world and is considered an epicentre of contemporary art.
Join us as we take you on an arts tour of LA...
The UCLA-managed Hammer Museum is situated in the commercial stretch of Wilshire Boulevard but step inside its white, high-ceilinged lobby and you will feel miles away from the mayhem.
A marble staircase leads to an open-air courtyard surrounded by two levels of galleries featuring the late oil tycoon Armand Hammer’s personal-turned-permanent collection. There are Van Goghs, Renoirs, Rembrandts and Gustave Moreau’s stand-out Old Master painting, Salome Dancing Before Herod.
Pop by on Saturdays at 1pm when student educators lead free exhibition tours. Their conversational approach helps visitors see exhibits such as Mark Bradford’s Scorched Earth (ends September 27) – a painted examination of the 1992 riots, homophobia, racism and the AIDS crisis – with greater understanding.
And take time out at the museum’s lesser-known Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, a 10-minute drive away. More than 70 brilliant sculptures, including surrealist Joan Miró’s Mere Ubu and David Smith’s Cubi XX, are set over two hectares at the north end of the UCLA campus. On the weekend, you’ll practically have the place to yourself.
Admission to the sculpture garden and gallery is free.
“Eli Broad has been saying for far longer than a decade that Los Angeles is one of the four great art capitals of the world, along with New York, Paris and London,” says Joanne Heyler, founding director of The Broad.
In 2015, Eli and his wife, Edythe, shared their personal art collection – some four decades in the making – with an inaugural installation featuring works by the leading lights of modern art, including painter Jasper Johns, pop artists Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha, photographer Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons, who’s renowned for his playful sculptures.
It’s not just the artwork that makes this museum so exciting. Design studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro knew that the museum had to complement, rather than compete with, the sinuous stainless steel lines of the neighbouring Walt Disney Concert Hall. And that it does: a veil made of fibreglass- reinforced concrete wraps around the US$140 million edifice; its upturned corners herald the north and south entrances – skylights fill the interior galleries with natural light – and moveable walls allow versatility in staging exhibitions.
You’ll also be able to glimpse works in the storage facility, located at the core of the 11,000-square-metre space. “As a collection that grows steadily and dynamically, adding 50 or more acquisitions per year, we will never be a static treasure house,” says Heyler.
Astonishingly, general admission is free.
Sometimes, art installations come to shape a city. It’s hard to imagine the entrance of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art now without Chris Burden’s extraordinary Urban Light, which features 202 restored streetlights that illuminate Wilshire Boulevard each night and act as a magnet for photographers. The artwork, installed in 2008, has become a landmark.
Anchoring the plaza directly behind LACMA is another photogenic sculpture, Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. The 340-tonne boulder literally stopped traffic when it arrived from a Riverside County quarry aboard a custom-built trailer in 2012.
While the older galleries of this museum display strong collections of Asian, Islamic and Latin American art, the eye is instantly drawn west, to the newer red-on-white, sawtooth-topped Resnick Pavilion, where Breathing Light – one of James Turrell’s “Ganzfeld” pieces – is being exhibited.
“It’s an installation designed to entirely eliminate the viewer’s depth perception,” explains Miranda Carroll from LACMA. “Just imagine being immersed in an environment of changing colourful light.” Due to its limited capacity, you’ll need to sign up on the iPad at the ticket desk and head over once notified via text message.
After viewing the Frank Gehry retrospective (September 13-March 20, 2016), foodies will appreciate the retro-chic Ray’s & Stark Bar, where executive chef Viet Pham is plating dishes inspired by the structured, geometric designs of the Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based architect.
General admission to the museum is free on the second Tuesday of every month.
Since opening 26 years ago, Regen Projects has presented singular and groundbreaking exhibitions by some of the most important contemporary artists working today, including punk poster and cover designer Raymond Pettibon, photographer Catherine Opie and Matthew Barney, whose Water Castings: Fourteen Pieces exhibition will show here from September 11 to October 24.
BLUM & POE
Timothy Blum and Jeffrey Poe founded their LA gallery in 1994 and, in 2014, opened a branch in Tokyo – Blum had previously spent four years working in Japan and the gallery has fostered relationships with artists there. Their client roster includes Japanese artists Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, as well as Sam Durant, Mark Grotjahn and Sharon Lockhart. Six years ago, Blum & Poe moved to a 2000-square- metre complex on La Cienega Boulevard, where Kazumi Nakamura’s works will show (September 11-October 24).
Back in the ’70s, Los Angeles was one of the few major American cities without a contemporary art museum. Philanthropist Marcia Weisman and a group of artists sought to correct this oversight and enlisted the support of the then mayor, Tom Bradley.
The city pledged to support a museum if it could raise an endowment of at least US$10 million. Eli Broad, the founding chairman, led the campaign that raised US$13 million.
A former police warehouse in Little Tokyo was renovated by Frank Gehry and opened as Temporary Contemporary in 1983. Now called The Geffen Contemporary, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, it is one of three MoCA locations and an ideal stage for large-scale works such as Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament (September 13- January 18, 2016). The filmic undertaking inspired by Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings includes drawings, photographs and 14 sculptures, the largest of which weighs more than five tonnes.
In 1986, MoCA Grand Avenue opened. Japanese architect Arata Isozaki’s postmodern design in red sandstone celebrates the Yin and the Yang; a subterranean courtyard leads to galleries crowned by pyramidal and sawtooth skylights that filter in the light.
MoCA Grand Avenue, in its entirety, is now dedicated to highlighting iconic works alongside lesser-known material drawn from the museum’s esteemed 7000- piece, post-1945 collection, which includes works by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock.
At MoCA’s third location on Melrose Avenue, the Pacific Design Center features rotating exhibitions of architecture and design. Admission is free, while MoCA Grand Avenue and The Geffen Contemporary are free on Thursdays from 5pm to 8pm.
The Getty Center and Getty Villa
Ride a futuristic-looking tram up the Santa Monica Mountains to the Getty Center (pictured top), a campus of white travertine-clad modern buildings, named for and financed by oil magnate J.Paul Getty.
It took more than a decade to realise architect Richard Meier’s design, built high above sprawling Los Angeles. The site of the museum, foundation and conservation and research institutes is not only home to some of the finest art but also offers unobstructed views of LA. It’s open until 9pm on Saturdays so you can have a picnic while enjoying the sunset.
One of your first ports of call should be Robert Irwin’s Central Garden, a glorious living sculpture where a maze of azaleas appears to float above a central pool that’s encircled by blazing poppies, fuzzy yellow kangaroo paws or fragrant Brazilian angel’s trumpets, depending on the season.
Up in the galleries, noteworthy pieces include the recently acquired Bust of Pope Paul V, 1621 by Bernini; Rembrandt Laughing, a self-portrait by the Dutch master; and Van Gogh’s Irises, which late businessman Alan Bond bought at auction for US$53.9 million in 1987. The Getty Center acquired the artwork in 1990, after Bond failed to repay the loan from Sotheby’s that had allowed him to make his purchase.
If you have time, visit the 1974-built Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, less than a 30-minute drive down Sunset Boulevard. This gem, sitting between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains, displays more than 1200 Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities from a collection of 44,000 works and has blissful gardens designed in the ancient Roman style. Between September 10 and October 3, the Euripides-inspired Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles will be performed in the villa’s amphitheatre.
Admission to the Getty Center and Getty Villa is free (an advance, timed-entry ticket is required for the villa).
Founded in 1978 by a small group of artists, LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) is a not-for-profit gallery that helped launch the careers of John Baldessari, Chris Burden, Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha. Rafa Esparza’s I Have Never Been Here Before will use around 5000 adobe bricks to transform the normally stark-white space during its run (until September 13). The gallery is on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The focus of the not-for-profit art institution LA> is contemporary art and experimental exhibitions. A recent move to Hollywood and the launch of a citywide art initiative called the Occasional coincides with the organisation’s 10-year anniversary, which will be marked on November 16 with a benefit.
SEE ALSO: 5 of the Weirdest Museums in the World