Los Angeles California has some great museums. Not surprisingly, we always find a way to stop at them whenever we are in the area.
LACMA is Los Angeles’ largest and premier art museum. It is also the largest art museum in the western United States. Its eight-building campus provides a high-level view of much of the world’s art, from a smattering of prehistoric pieces to a somewhat broader portrayal of contemporary art. Two buildings provide a nice survey of Asian Art.
During our 2022 visit, two of the museum’s buildings were closed during a multi-year construction project. The museum was limited to smaller shows consisting of selected works from 150,000 pieces of its permanent collection. To whet your appetite for when the museum reopens, here are our notes from our 2018 visit.
A specialized, temporary exhibit examined how Marc Chagall’s art was influenced by and played a role in stage performances. In addition to displaying a number of Chagall’s oils, prints, and sketches, it explained his history in designing backdrops and costumes for dozens of ballets and operas. It began with his designs of backdrop screens and costumes for the American Ballet Theater. It then moved onto his extravagant, fantastical (and sometimes downright wild) sets and costumes for productions of important operas such as The Firebird and The Magic Flute.
Another special exhibit in the Resnick Pavilion provided a retrospective of the instrumental role that the Los Angeles and New York branches of the daring Dyan Gallery played in introducing several new genres of avant garde art. This included Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Minimalist, and Land art to the collectors from the 1950s through the early 1970s.
Other temporary exhibits ranged from traditional Japanese use of cloisonné in producing vivid yet extremely subtle ceramics to contemporary North American artists’ conceptions of “Home”. These images ranging from aerial photos of huge subdivisions, to a full-scale model of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski’s shack, ironically painted in colors from Martha Stewart’s “approved” color palette to deconstructed of reconstructed versions of home furniture to a model of a jail cell that represents the current “home” for all to many Americans.
Among some of the museums’ other particularly noteworthy exhibitions and collections were:
- Chris Burden’s Metropolis II is a rooms-sized, stylistic, kinetic representation of a modern city, with its high-rises, parks, city neighborhoods, and endless streams of traffic looping all around and through.
- Carlos Almaraz’s “Playing with Fire”, a display consisting of dozens of vividly colored, multi-textural paintings of contemporary urban life consisting of everything from curvaceous towers through pastoral parks and home scenes, to his specialty of ultraviolent, fiery car crashes and one especially poignant close-range murder.
- Abstraction in German Art, which covers the particularly fertile years from 1907 to 1925.
- Huge displays of delicately-carved, often whimsical Japanese Netsukes and precisely painted Chinese snuff bottles.
- The largest display of Korean art in the country, with a particularly interesting display of contemporary glazed pottery.
And all of this is in addition to the museum’s strong permanent collections of everything from Mesoamerican, 17th-century European, Impressionist, Cubist, Abstract Expressionist, and Japanese landscape art. And then there are the galleries dedicated to Cubism (especially Picasso), Fauvism (especially Matisse), and Dada/Surrealism. Nor can one help but marvel at some of the lustrous two millennia-old blown glass and quasi-abstract (almost contemporary appearing) sculptures from the Near and Middle East.
Overall, one can spend an incredibly full day there and still not have enough time at the end to literally breeze through much of the early European and Latin American collections.
This museum (pronounced Brode) forms the backbone of the Eli and Edythe Broad family collection of modern and contemporary art. It is housed in a fascinating Diller Scofidio + Renfro building. The building’s mottled, pocked exterior provides a vivid counterpoint to its shiny, smooth next-door neighbor, the amazing, Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. Across the street in another direction is LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, with its striking “deconstructed” airplane sculpture towering over its entrance.
The Broad’s collection is spread across its first and third floors. The second floor contains the administrative offices as well as a storage area that is viewable through two windows on the stairwell.
The architectural masterpiece was created by homebuilding magnate Eli Board to house his family’s incredible collection of modern and contemporary art. The third floor displays its primary collection of large galleries dedicated to the works of specific artists. Among those that are most comprehensively represented are Andy Warhol. Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Cindy Sherman. On deisplay are n works in styles that we had not previously seen from the artist. Examples include Warhol’s “The Kiss”, Lichtenstein’s “River Valley”. Koons’ fun sculpture of Buster Keaton on a too-small donkey and Sherman’s picture of herself as a man.
Among other artists that were impressively represented are:
- Kara Walker with her representations of black life in America, especially with her expressive and poignant black paper cutout figures;
- Jenny Saville’s expressive and poignant paintings including “Stare”;
- Albert Oehlen’s oils, especially “Ziggy Stargast” (an homage and challenge to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust) which portrays the power and in some ways, destructive nature of rock and roll;
- Robert Therin’s fun, interactive “Under the Table”;
- Shirin Neshat’s portrayals of the roles and treatment of women in Iran;
- Jeff Wall’s large-scale, staged photos that fashion modern historical events in juxtaposition with critiques of modern life—none more so than a recreation of an Afghan ambush;
- Ragnar Kjartsson’s two rooms of videos depicting multiple musicians and singers simultaneously performing the same songs across nine screens, with singers on the porch and musicians in separate rooms of a house, including screens that showed musicians walking from room to room.
- Elliot Hundley’s multi-media, 3D representations of the world.
The third floor houses the museum’s permanent collection of pieces from many of the world’s (albeit overwhelmingly American) premier modern and contemporary artists. The floor’s main lobby is dominated by a few of Jeff Koon’s iconic balloon sculptures, a monumental 82-foot long Takashi Muakami painting, and a couple of El Anatsui’s sheets made largely of recycled bottle caps.
Some artists, such as Warhol, Sam Francis, Elsworth Kelly, and Roy Lichtenstein have full galleries devoted to their works. Many works are accompanied with an audio cell phone discussion narrative panels. For example, how Lichtenstein readily “appropriated” many subjects and themes from artists ranging from Delacroix to Monet (not to speak of daily comics), and rendered them in his famous Ben-Day Dot patterns.
Most other artists are represented in galleries that are shared with other artists with whom parallels can be drawn between their works. One gallery, for example, explains the friendship and common street art roots of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and how their works evolved into gallery art. Major, and often multiple important works by many other leading modern and contemporary artists including Ed Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Anselm Keifer, Sigmar Polke, Chuck Close, and Cindy Sherman are also represented.
Other lesser-known artists are also represented:
- Malcolm Morley’s “First Aid Station in Vietnam, whose mottled paint looks almost like a basic paint-by-numbers composition, but whose subject is extremely powerful;
- Mark Tinsey’s generally photo-realistic representations of seemingly everyday scenes deliver poignant messages;
- Shirin Neshat’s video portrays the subjugation of women in her native Iran and many other Muslim countries;
- Kara Walker’s black silhouette images poignantly portray the subjugation and torture of slaves and how these pains continue to affect current generations.
Some pieces strike less serious notes. Consider, for example, Robert Therein’s 10-foot tall set of tables and chairs which provide something of an entertaining, interactive relief to many of the museum’s more poignant works and themes.
While the second floor is dedicated to administrative offices and storage, even this floor provides a degree of interaction via stairway windows that provide views into the museum’s large, amply stocked storage area.
The first floor houses a large museum store and several galleries dedicated to temporary exhibits. The highlight, from what we have heard and read, is Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away”. This mirrored room, which allows only one visitor in at a time is engulfed in a series of a seemingly endless sea of colored LED lights and is limited to one-minute visits. Even so, it can accommodate only a small portion of daily visitors. Since visitors can only reserve times when they arrive—and since we did not arrive until the afternoon–we were not among the lucky few.
Even so, we did enjoy the other of the floor’s temporary exhibitions. Occulus is a multi-artist presentation of dozens of paintings, sculptures, videos, and multi-media works that are intended to illuminate the complex, typically hidden managing forces and processes that define our day-to-day lives in our contemporary, global society and economy. Some of these works portray the huge scale of these infrastructures and processes, some the monotony of stultifying, impersonal processes, and others the apparent randomness of global economic exchanges and even of games. These include:
- Andreas Gursky’s intimidating photo of an Amazon warehouse, devoid of people, but packed with seemingly random placed objects that can be tracked only by complex algorithms;
- Erica Beckman’s “You, the Better”, examines the randomness and underlying process of games of chance;
- Mark Bradford’s “Across 110th Street uses layers of salvaged materials to reveal the de facto border between Harlem and the rest of Manhattan;
- Oscar Murillo’s “Trade Today”, a multi-fabric display intended to represent the movement of products, services and money across international borders.
The exhibit also includes some fascinating videos, including one that represents the monotony and seeming meaningless of some day-to-day office work and another on the vast gulf between Egyptian men and women.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opened in September 2021, is devoted to honoring and preserving the history, science, and cultural impact of the film industry. It is divided into multiple thematic sections.
Stories of Cinema portrays the contributions of some of the industry’s most important pioneers. The first name you see when entering the exhibit is that of Orsen Wells. Wells co-wrote (with Herman Mankiewicz) the screenplay for, and directed and starred in Citizen Kane. Other honorees include:
- Bruce Lee, who brought professional-level martial arts to the big screen;
- Oscar Michaux, the first black producer who played a critical role in establishing positive screen and cultural images for African Americans;
- Patricia Cardoza, director;
- Others who made movies that brought nuanced stories of Hispanic-American lives to the screen.
- Screenwriters, cinematographers, and those from other movie-related disciplines.
The Path to Cinema provides an overview of the evolution of cinematic expression and technology from the centuries-old art of shadow puppet shows, peep shows, camera obscura, magic lanterns (which shine light through one or multiple layers of colored glass and a lens to create an image (and the use of carrousels to create stories which can be narrated and accompanied by music), zoetropes (from the theater version created by Edison and subsequent, smaller individual user “parlor” versions), kinescopes and role of France’s Lumiere brothers in creating the first minute-long movies in 1892.
Backdrop: The Invisible Art explains and demonstrates the role and importance of originally painted, and now video, digital and responsive LED backdrops that are used to convey spatial illusions that make it appear that actors are at the location being portrayed, rather than in the studio where they are actually filmed (thereby reducing the cost and uncertainties inherent on filming on location). The role of backdrops is shown and explained in front of and the context of the 1930’s-era painted backdrop of Mount Rushmore that was used in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.
Hayao Miyazaki, provides a retrospective of the 60-year cinematic history of the pioneering Japanese animation artist and director who grew up with the goal of creating Manga comics. He created fantastical worlds populated by nuanced characters with complex relationships among them and portrayed forests as scary, but enhanced, magical places with life-giving qualities that were homes to spirits and gods.
Pedro Almodovar, which is a retrospective of the 21 films the legendary Spanish director has produced to date. He is particularly noted for his compassionate portrayals of dynamic women, several of which are shown in clips that are simultaneously played on 12 screens.
The Oscar Experience. For an extra fee, visitors can simulate winning an Oscar, from their name being announced to accepting the award and giving an acceptance speech. All of this is recorded can be taken home.
Among other noteworthy sections include:
Academy Awards History, which exhibits the statuettes awarded to noteworthy winners from the first 1929 ceremony including that of Mary Pickford, winner of that year’s Best Actress award. It discusses and displays examples of the ceremony’s role in previewing new fashions.
Wizard of Oz is a large gallery that explains many of the decisions behind the movie: the origin of the movie; the decision to transition from black and white to color; the selection of the actors’ costumes and makeup; the role that MGM chief Louis B. Mayer played including in contributing to Judy Garland’s addiction to drugs, and the movie’s unprecedented marketing budget of an unprecedented 8.2 percent of its production budget.
Spike Lee. This room portrayed Lee’s contribution to cinema, especially in raising awareness of, if not necessarily addressing uncomfortable issues around race;
Roles and nature of disciplines. These include screenwriters; storyboarders; make-up artists; casting directors (after the decline of the studio system under which studios effectively “owned” the careers of its actors); costume directors; makeup artists; hairstylists who play critical roles in creating an actor’s image and creating movie icons; and the many professionals involved in creating a movie’s “visual image” from site selection to atmosphere creation, shot framing, and editing. One very interesting exhibit focused on sound. Using a detailed video, it explains the challenges and innovative solutions to creating special effects used in “Raiders of the Lost Ark, and how different “layers” of sound are laid atop each other to create the final movie. Very fascinating.
The role that narrative and documentary movies can play in creating awareness of and ideally mobilizing action around critical social issues. It discussed issues such as climate change with the 2006 movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” and also discussed race, gender equity, and labor relations.
The Pixar Toy Story 3D Zoetrope showcased a second-generation of a Japanese-developed zoetrope capable of displaying 3D (rather than traditional 2D) characters. It is fascinating to see how these figures appear at rest, as they gradually come up to speed and finally, at full speeds with strobes that make multiple characters “come to life”.
And for a break, one can head to the rooftop Dolby Patio for a bird-eye view of the valley and surrounding mountains.
It was a fascinating look into the world of movies.
Petersen Automotive Museum
This museum houses the largest collection of iconic, historic cars in the world, not to speak of the largest collection of original James Bond cars), the dramatic building provides a chronicle of the 120-year history of automotive engineering and design. Although we did not go through the museum, the walk-through lobby (not to speak of its windows into the main exhibit) provides an enticing introduction with its Raesr, Caparo. McLaren and Ferrari sports cars and Lotus motorcycles.
The Hammer Museum consists largely of the 19th and 20th century American and European art collected by Occidental Petroleum executive Armand Hammer, the museum was divided into several exhibitions during our 2022 visit.
- Hammer Projects by Ho Tzu Nyen was a fascinating two-channel video and sound installation that used animated images to reinterpret decades of South Korean uprisings and mass demonstrations and the ways in which they were handled.
- Hammer Projects: noe’ olivas (an artist named after a piece of native American land that has been taken over by San Diego) uses found materials (such as auto parts, broken concrete, and soil) to create an installation that resembles a number of yards in the areas black and Hispanic working class and immigrant homes.
- Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation was a retrospective of the artist’s multi-decade career which consisted of works in different media (especially video and digital) focused largely on themes of race and gender.
- A Decade of Acquisitions of Works on Paper provides a sampling of a number of contemporary pieces of all styles (from paintings, prints, and sketches to poetry.
- Lifes, examines the potential benefits (such as serving as a catalyst for new ideas) and pitfalls (such as incompatible means of expression) of interdisciplinary art. The gallery, consisted of individual pieces plus more than a dozen stone lions with folded rugs, shawls, and scarves neatly folded and placed on their backs.
The museum was only partially opened with a small display of works from its permanent collection. Among the works we found most interesting were the multi-colored Carlos Cruz rooms. Each were bathed in different color lights with windows out into the gallery that virtually invited visitors to pose and perform in the windows. We also enjoyed a gallery with several of Mark Rothko’s color field paintings.
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, located at a different site, was totally filled by a single, fascinating, interactive multimedia installation, Pipilotti Rist: Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor. The arts combined 40 years of work in experimental videos into a huge, multi-gallery installation at combined video, music, painting, light projections, LED lighting, sculptures, furniture, and found object furnishings into a virtual “neighborhood” that is part of external reality and part dreams and imagination.
The installation flowed a well-laid out path among several display areas. It began in the museum’s lobby with a chandelier draped with men’s underpants before proceeding into a backyard with patio furniture and picnic table and surrounded by buildings and a large field of LED lights that when white, appeared as stars. Surfaces were painted and illuminated with colored images from projectors. You follow the path through doors in surrounding buildings to arrive in different rooms. One was a furnished, decorated apartment in which visitors are welcome to sit or lay on the chairs, couches and beds. The room has lovely, abstractly painted walls, projected images, two walls of ever-changing, ever-evocative single and double-channel videos, and a number of smaller, single-channel videos. Following a floor-to-ceiling drapery-lined the path past a number of sculptures and videos, you take a winding trail though a large field of LED lights that continually change colors along to music and when lit in different patterns, allude to images—often sexual.
Reentering the drapery-lined path, you come to other rooms: an eccentrically-designed office; a living room with oversized furniture aligned around a television (displaying Rist videos of course) on which adult visitors look like children gathered around a television. These rooms and several others along the drape-lined path display Rist videos, many of which portray sexual (such as a woman walking through a normal day of life while her thoughts (represented by a second video channel displayed on her head) shows images of a sexy, scantily dressed man in suggestive poses), counter-cultural (including one of a woman pressing her face against a pane of glass in a way that produces grotesque contortions) and anarchic (such as a women yielding a long-stemmed poker flower casually walking down the street using the “flower” to break car windows while a woman police offer who salutes the woman) and dissociative (including a float through a dreamlike coral reef only to run across teacups, toy trucks and other non sequiturs) themes. All of which, as described in the program, are intended to convey deeper levels of meaning.
Even when you leave the gallery, parts of the exhibition remains with you. Those who download the app can click on images in a brochure to see virtual overlays that add new dimension and meaning to the printed images.
Overall, a highly engaging and evocative experience that provides an alluring, if somewhat disconcerting introduction into the virtual and augmented reality world into which we are beginning to enter.
This huge, roughly half-city block complex in next to the city’s Little Tokyo and wholesale neighborhoods consists of galleries, stores, public art, private art shops, a restaurant and bar and a company-owned publishing operation that is currently promoting a book that surveys the career of French Cubist and Dada pioneer Marcel Duchamp.