California, Gary Fong, Los Angeles, See — June 20, 2012 at 9:15 am





LOS ANGELES – While most visitors to LA flock to the renowned Getty Museum, they often forget about the city’s first major museum dedicated solely to art:  the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Granted, LACMA may not be housed in a beautiful, mountain-perched Richard Meier-designed building (like the Getty) and can’t boast an unrivaled collection of Renaissance and Greek/Roman sculpture (again, like the Getty). But LACMA is impressive nonetheless, boasting an amazing collection (that’s only gotten better over the years with acquisitions and donations) and a truly excellent track record of putting together compelling exhibitions.

What specifically does LACMA have in its collection that’s so impressive?  Well, there’s the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA which exhibits pieces from one of the most sought-after private holdings of contemporary art, the Broad Collection.  On view during my visit:  Richard Serra’s incredible massive steel sculptures and a variety of fun pieces by Jeff Koons, including the very recognizable Cracked Egg (Red), Balloon Dog (Blue) and Michael Jackson and Bubbles.  Yes, I said fun.

Clockwise from top left: Smoke (Tony Smith), Red Crack Egg (Jeff Koons), Urban Light (Chris Burden), Blue Balloon Dog (Jeff Koons)


Or there’s LACMA’s collection of Korean Art (one of the largest outside of Korea thanks to a private donation in 2000), which has as its centerpiece the magnificent and very massive (11’ x 13’) Korean Buddhist scroll of Buddha Seokgamoni speaking to his assembly.  The scroll itself was only recently restored and put on exhibition by LACMA.

There’s also a top notch collection of Islamic art, which is one of the best I’ve seen (and certainly on par with the recently opened Islamic wing at the Met in New York City) and some really splendid Japanese artworks (the Edo period paintings are excellent) housed in a Bruce Goff-designed, love-it-or-hate-it Japanese pavilion.  Plus there’s a whole host of sculptures by the great Auguste Rodin, many of which are on view in the museum’s sculpture garden, including a version of The Shade.

And, if that’s not enough, you’ll also find loads of one-off must-sees like Diego Rivera’s Flower Day, Chris Burden’s Urban Light installation (which fronts LACMA), Tony Smith’s enormous Smoke sculpture, and Thomas Eakins’ Wrestlers (which could have easily been inspired by today’s UFC fighters, oddly enough).

Clockwise from top left: Band (Richard Serra), Michael Jackson and Bubbles (Jeff Koons), The Shade (Rodin), Buddha Seokgamoni


And finally there are the LACMA exhibitions – another reason to visit LACMA.  Of all the museums I frequent, LACMA has some of the most consistently compelling shows.   Here’s a small sample of the sort of shows LACMA offers:  Gustav Klimt: Five Paintings from the Collection of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer, which brought together the five repatriated Klimt paintings for the first time in the US;  the rather pretentiously named, King of the World: A Mughal Manuscript from the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, which one views with a magnifying glass; last year’s blockbuster Tim Burton exhibition; and the recent Ellsworth Kelly:  Prints and Paintings, which examined Kelly’s obsession with shapes and colors.

Despite all of this, LACMA will probably never be on that A-list of museums – their last chance at that was the 2008 Renzo Piano makeover, which they botched (did they really think a roof would unify LACMA’s many buildings?).  But when it comes to the art, LACMA truly delivers.  If you’ve already done the Getty, then think about visiting LACMA the next time you’re in LA.  You won’t be disappointed.

What’s the little thing that makes LACMA worth a visit?  The art…it’s all about the art.

When to go?   Weekends at LACMA can be extremely family oriented, especially if there’s a kid targeted exhibition being shown like Tim Burton or Metropolis II.  On the other hand, weekdays can offer visitors a more relaxing experience.  In summer months, LACMA offers free jazz shows (and cocktails) in their courtyard on Friday evenings (an awesome place to meet people if you’re a singleton). The museum is closed on Wednesdays.

Where is it?  LACMA is located in LA’s miracle mile district on Wilshire Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue (adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits).  Extensive visitor parking is available, while taxis are accessible via the queue located in front of the museum on Wilshire Blvd.  (Photos:  Gary Fong, All Artworks ©LACMA)

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Author:  Gary Fong

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