“Los Angeles is so stubbornly its own thing … To love LA, you kind of have to let it just be LA.” Damien Chazelle.
One of the snubs I hear leveled at LA by people who don’t know it that well is that it’s devoid of any culture. For many, Los Angeles is synonymous with Hollywood, Muscle Beach and surfing – a playground and catwalk, basically. But this is just the ‘front’ of LA. Behind all this lies a beautiful, highly cultured, shockingly prolific creature that will bowl you over with its history and creative importance. In fact, LA has more museums and theatres than any other US city, and its art and design scene easily rivals New York and London’s – yet is seldom talked about.
In this article, I’m going to give you a few of the city’s artistic highlights, many of which offer free admission on select days of the week, so your trip doesn’t need to break the bank. Check out Discover LA website to get more general info on the city.
Located opposite the architectural masterpiece that is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Broad is a futuristic-looking gallery with four floors of art, including pieces by Jeff Koons, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hurst and Jenny Holzer. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in collaboration with Gensler, it opened in 2015 and offers free general admission. Its famous ‘infinity mirror rooms’ – immersive installations filled with LED lights and mirrors – are a must-visit while in town, though arrive early to avoid the queue – it’s usually one in, one out.
221 S Grand Ave, www.thebroad.org. Closed Mondays. Book in advance or join the standby line.
Also Downtown is the MOCA Grand Avenue – arguably one of the best museums in LA. It opened in 1986 and contains some 7,000 pieces of art from the likes of Joan Miro, Mark Ruthko and Rosemarie Trockel.
Pacific Design Center
Meanwhile, over in West Hollywood is the Pacific Design Center – another outpost of MOCA – exhibiting the latest in design and architecture. West Hollywood is one of the few “walkable” neighbourhoods, so enjoy all it has to offer when you come here – stop by Alfred’s for a coffee, at the very least.
8687 Melrose Ave, www.moca.org. Free admission.
South of the PDC is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – the largest art museum in the western United States. The LACMA houses some 135,000 pieces that span thousands of years of history, from ancient Egyptian sculptures and Japanese woodblock prints to works by Rembrandt, Cezanne, Ansel Adams, Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol.
5905 Wilshire Boulevard, www.lacma.org. Free admission on the second Tuesday of every month, and every week for LA County residents 3pm to 5pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; and 3pm to 8pm on Friday.
Over in Westwood you have the Hammer Museum and Cultural Center – one of three public art institutions at UCLA. Founded in 1990 by Armand Hammer as a place to exhibit his extensive art collection, the Hammer houses a permanent collection with masterpieces by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Sargent, as well as one of the world’s finest collections of works on paper. It also hosts lectures, symposia, readings, concerts and film screenings. Be sure to visit The Fowler Museum (also part of UCLA) and the Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden at the north end of the campus while you’re here.
10899 Wilshire Blvd, www.hammer.ucla.edu. Free entry.
Blum & Poe
Blum & Poe has galleries in New York and Tokyo, and its LA branch has an international roster of artists on its books. Current shows are by Darren Bader, Chung Sang-Hwa and Shin Sung-Hy (2727 S La Cienega Blvd, www.blumandpoe.com. Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm.) In Little Tokyo, the Geffen Contemporary – part of MOCA – is a large exhibition space that showcases contemporary art in a former police garage (152 N Central Ave, www.moca.org. Free every Thursday from 5pm to 8pm and weekends until March 25th).
Next door to this is the Japanese American National Museum, a collection of art and artifacts that explore 130 years of the Japanese-American experience (100 N Central Ave, www.janm.org). Free admission every Thursday from 5-8 pm, and all day every third Thursday of the month.
Three blocks south of this, in the Arts District, is Art Share LA – a huge warehouse/exhibition space that hosts open-mic sets, rotating shows and performances.
801 E 4th Place, www.artsharela.org.
The Getty Center
If you have wheels, be sure to make the trip out to the Getty Center (Uber it if you have to). This extensive complex, designed by Richard Meier, is perched in the hills just off the I-405 freeway, with panoramic views of the city, the Pacific Ocean, and the San Gabriel Mountains. The vast collection includes French furniture, Impressionist art, photography, drawings, sculptures, manuscripts and one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. Famous pieces to look out for include Van Gough’s Irises and Titian’s Venus and Adonis. Check the website for special events, screenings and talks, and leave enough time to enjoy the gardens.
1200 Getty Center Drive, www.getty.edu. Closed Mondays. Free entry.
The Getty Villa
Just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades, is the Getty Villa – a near replica of the Villa dei Papiri – a luxurious Roman house in Herculaneum that was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The villa contains the J. Paul Getty Museum’s antiquities collection, with art spanning 7,000 years from the end of the Stone Age to the fall of the Roman empire.
17985 Pacific Coast Highway, www.getty.edu/visit/villa/.Closed Tuesdays.
Hauser & Wirth
With branches in New York, Hong Kong and Bruton in Somerset, Hauser & Wirth have cemented their international reputation in the art world. H&W LA’s newest exhibition, Annie Leibovitz The Early Years, 1970 – 1983 until April 14, 2019, is a must-see whilst in town this spring. The show is dedicated to the earliest work of the renowned American artist, with more than 4,000 of her photographs, plus Leibovitz’s shots of some of her personal heroes – Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others.
www.hauserwirth.com, 901 East 3rd Street. Closed Mondays.
BOLD and the LA Frieze
A couple of pop-up events are set to liven up this already heady art mix. The first is BOLD – a seasonal event held in Beverly Hills. The second is Frieze Art Fair, which already has a presence in London and New York, and is set to make its debut in LA this spring at Paramount Pictures Studios. Frieze will become an annual cultural celebration, combining works from 60 contemporary galleries in LA and beyond, as well as a curated program of conversations, site-specific projects and films.
www.frieze.com/fairs/frieze-los-angeles. Runs each February.
Marciano Art Foundation
Founded by Maurice and Paul Marciano, and housed in a former Masonic Temple, MAF contains more than 1,500 works by more than 200 artists, dating from the 1990s to the present day. The rotating exhibitions span painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper, installations, performances, films and digital work. If you’re there at the moment, check out Ai Weiwei’s Life Cycle, the artist’s first major show in LA.
Marciano Art Foundation, 4357 Wilshire Boulevard; 00 1 424 204 7555.
The Museum of Latin American Art was founded in 1996, and is the only museum in America dedicated to contemporary Latin American art. Its works range from Tamayo and Matta to Cruz-Diez, to Los Carpinteros and Tunga.
Free admission every Sunday, and the fourth Friday of every month from 5-9pm.
The MAK Center
The Mak Center for Art and Architecture is a contemporary, experimental, multi-disciplinary centre for art and architecture housed in architect Rudolph M. Schindler’s home and studio (1922) in West Hollywood. Free admission on Fridays from 4-6 pm, on International Museum Day (held annually in May) and R.M. Schindler’s birthday (10th September).
Over in Venice, you have the LA Louver. Founded in 1975, it focuses on American and European contemporary art.
45 N Venice Blvd, www.lalouver.com. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm.
First Fridays on Abbot Kinney
Abbot Kinney is the main road that runs diagonally through Venice, and each month its shop and galleries come together to feature the best artists, food vendors and music in the area. Expect food trucks, cocktails, gift-shopping and an all-round good vibe.
Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, 6pm to 10pm, 1st March 2019.
Annenberg Space for Photography
This spring, the Annenberg Space for Photography presents CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop (26th April to 18th August 2019) – a look at the work of hip-hop photographers, as told through their unedited contact sheets. Featuring Barron Claiborne’s Notorious B.I.G. portraits; early images of Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West; Janette Beckman’s defining images of Salt-N-Pepa; and Jamel Shabazz and Gordon Parks documenting hip-hop culture; plus rare videos, memorabilia and music.
2000 Avenue of the Stars. Free entry.
As a former women’s hostel, the lobby of the Hotel Figueroa in Downtown features a collection of work by female artists, as well as a schedule of women-only events and a book collection of Los Angeles based authors.
939 South Figueroa St, www.hotelfigueroa.com