Los Angeles may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of art museums, but it should be. Not only has this city been introducing new art museums, but even the existing ones have seen impressive expansion. The City of Angels will delight and surprise any art lover.
Here are some of the finest art museums that Los Angeles has to offer.
Los Angeles County Museum Of Art
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, is the oldest and best known of the art museums in Southern California. For decades, this was the place for popular national and international traveling exhibits. It also boasts an impressive permanent collection spanning centuries and includes a myriad of genres.
LACMA doesn’t rest on its laurels, but instead continually reinvents itself. Over the years, as its collection has grown, several new buildings have been added to the campus, and an extensive outdoor space was created that includes art installations, a highly rated restaurant, a café, and seating areas.
The most popular pieces at the museum don’t even require admission to see. In front of the main entrance along Wilshire Boulevard is Chris Burden’s Urban Lights. Several rows of restored street lamps have become an Instagram magnet. Also outdoors is Levitated Mass, a 340-ton boulder set over a walkway.
Within walking distance of LACMA are the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum, the Craft Contemporary, and the Petersen Automotive Museum. This part of the city offers an entire day’s worth of excellent museum experiences.
LACMA is open every day except Wednesday. Admission ranges from $16 to $25.
Relatively new to the Los Angeles art scene is The Broad, and it’s quickly become one of the top sights in the city. Philanthropists and avid art collectors Eli and Edyth Broad founded this museum to house their extensive personal collection of contemporary art. Only a small portion of their collection is on display at any given time, so repeat visits will always bring new surprises.
While the exhibits rotate regularly, some of the most popular pieces remain on view for the public. Among these are Jeff Koons’s Tulips, Robert Therrien’s Under The Table, and Andy Warhol’s Two Marilyns.
The Broad also features not one but two of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirror rooms, which are definitely worth arriving early to see (only a limited number of tickets are made available for these each day).
The Broad is open Tuesday through Sunday and is free of charge. However, due to its popularity, reservations are recommended and can be made online.
Every visitor to Los Angeles should set aside a full day for The Getty. This institution, located on 720 acres, boasts impressive architecture, expansive views of the city, beautiful gardens, and world-class art, all free of charge.
The design of the space is intended to encourage visitors to move easily between indoor and outdoor areas. With plentiful seating areas, it’s also designed to allow visitors to enjoy the experience slowly and not feel rushed.
The physical size of the museum combined with the breadth of the collection allow The Getty to offer a dozen different exhibits at a time. Current exhibits include a history of cameras, manuscripts from the Middle Ages, and 18th-century pastel portraits.
First-time visitors should definitely start with a docent-led tour or with an audio tour, both of which are free. These tours provide a nice overview of the museum.
A highlight of The Getty is the Central Garden, which was intended to be a piece of living art. Follow the circular path to experience all the parts of the garden, including several water features.
The Getty is open Tuesday through Sunday and does not charge for admission. However, parking costs $20 per vehicle.
The Getty Villa
Located in Malibu, California, The Getty Villa is a sister institution to the museum. However, the type of art and architecture found at the villa is quite different. John Paul Getty wanted the property to resemble an ancient Roman country house and used the Italian Villa dei Papiri as a guide.
Surrounding the villa are four gardens that include more than 300 species of plants. During Roman times, gardens like these would have been used for practical matters like food preparation and medical treatment as well as aesthetic purposes.
Inside the villa is ancient art spanning 7,000 years, from the end of the Stone Age to the fall of the Roman Empire. It’s estimated that there are 44,000 items in the collection.
Like at the museum, free docent-led tours are available that provide a more in-depth understanding of this fascinating place.
The Getty Villa is open Wednesday through Sunday. Admission to the villa is free, but a timed entry reservation is required and should be booked several days in advance online. Parking costs $20 per vehicle.
Annenberg Space For Photography
The Annenberg Space For Photography flies under the radar of many Angelenos, even those passionate about art. But this small museum knows how to curate top-notch print and digital photography exhibits.
Annenberg offers just one exhibit at a time, and each is open to the public for three to six months. Currently Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop is on display, but it will soon be replaced by W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine. Typically each exhibit includes a display of photos along with a short film that provides history and context.
In addition to the photography exhibits, Annenberg offers more than 50 programs a year related to the exhibits. These interactive events give visitors a chance to learn even more about photography, current events, and issues related to the art on view.
The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, and admission is free.
Marciano Art Foundation
Marciano Art Foundation is the new kid on the block in the Los Angeles art museum scene, having opened in 2017. Maurice and Paul Marciano, like the Broads, decided to open a museum to share their extensive private collection of modern art with the public. They purchased the Masonic Temple, an iconic site in the heart of Los Angeles, and completely redesigned it for the purpose of displaying art, often large installations.
The first floor of the museum was previously the theater of the Masonic Temple, and as such offers a cavernous space for the display of large works. Recently, internationally recognized artist and activist Ai Weiwei displayed his newest piece, Life Cycle, there. Currently, a work by Donna Huanca, Obsidian Ladder,is on display and features painted female models that move through the artwork over the course of several hours. This artwork can only be viewed on Saturdays.
Any visitor to Marciano should head upstairs to see Yayoi Kusama’s With All My Love For The Tulips, I Pray Forever. In the center of the room are several enormous tulips in pots, while red dots cover the floor and walls.
The Marciano Art Foundation does not charge admission, but reservations are highly recommended and can be made online.
Norton Simon Museum
Located in Pasadena, California, adjacent to Los Angeles, is the Norton Simon Museum. In 1974, a massive private collection owned by the Simon family was combined with artwork of the former Pasadena Art Institute, resulting in an impressive 12,000 pieces of art, many by the world’s most famous artists.
The museum focuses on European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Among the best known of these pieces are paintings by Rembrandt, van Gogh, Manet, and Goya as well as sculptures by Degas. The museum features a large gallery of the most well-known art from its permanent collection.
In addition to the rotating art from the permanent collection, the Norton Simon also offers a few special exhibits. Currently these include Belle Époque paintings from Paris and abstract photography.
The museum is open Wednesday through Monday. Admission ranges from $12 to $15, and children, students, and active military can enter free of charge.
This is certainly not a complete list of Los Angeles art museums, but these are arguably the best. Among these institutions, there is something from every genre of art imaginable. Art-loving visitors to the city should definitely set aside time to see one or more of these museums.
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