Los Angeles: City of Art
My curated tour of the city’s best art spots.
Los Angeles has long been home to artists, patrons, collectors, and admirers of contemporary art. The vast metropolis is a rich cultural landscape comprised of diverse neighborhoods teeming with a trove of art’s hidden treasures. Within LA’s 468 square miles, the visual and conceptual range of work is as expansive as its urban sprawl. Museums, galleries, artists’ studios, collections, and institutions dot the many different districts.
Traditionally, LA is best known as a movie industry town. But, the ever-growing ties between art and entertainment have been transforming it into one of the most sought-after cities for creatives seeking greater exposure to a mass audience.
Though New York will always be the art mecca, its days of challenging the status quo through creative expression are a thing of the past. Today, it’s a part of the establishment, and a tableau for future generations of artists whose works reflects the history of our zeitgeist. And with the New York Times declaring in 2016 that, “no city in the country is more exciting than Los Angeles right now,” even rivals have embraced the city’s magical, and artistic, allure.
Alongside LA’s most established names in commercial galleries is an underground fueling a creative movement that is impossible to ignore. The city’s underground makes its heart beat, and the artists that reside within it are truly world-class.
By nature, the city itself can be intimidating. The vibe is a mix of Paris in the 20s and New York in the 60s. I moved to Los Angeles in 2012 and experienced a personal creative renaissance that reflected the energy of the city. Join me as I introduce some of its gems.
With so much to explore, it is best to have an extensive but flexible itinerary that’s open to unexpected surprises. Los Angeles is divided into east and west sides, each hosting a wide variety of neighborhoods with distinct identities. We will stay on the east side, due to the proportionately higher number of galleries alongside the city’s newest institutions.
Located on Grand Avenue in the heart of downtown, The Broad is one of the latest museums to expand Los Angeles’ art world. Founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, the museum hosts over 2,000 pieces from their personal collection of contemporary art. The museum’s home was designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. The facade’s porous aesthetic balances the neighboring Walt Disney Concert Hall’s iconic aluminum structure, designed by Frank Gehry.
Among the highlights of the museum is Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room (2013). Kusama, known for her hallucinogenic colors and patterns, presents an immersive and experiential piece lined with mirrors and lights. Each guest is allowed to take in the installation, by themselves, for 60 seconds.
Admission is free for the permanent collection and tickets for special exhibitions are $12 for adults. The Broad draws long lines throughout the day. I recommend booking a reservation in advance or arriving when doors open at 11:00 a.m. Also, make sure to check out its “cool storage” room, which gives a peek into the museum’s comprehensive collection.
Two miles from Grand Avenue is the Arts District, a developing neighborhood that is home to many artists’ studios, commercial galleries, and artist-run venues.
Timo Fahler is an LA-based artist and co-founder of BBQLA, an independent gallery that features group exhibitions by emerging and mid-career artists. Fahler and his partners seek to create a community space to support and host exhibitions that combine works by lesser-known artists with established industry names. Fahler believes LA has always been a viable place for artists to maintain a studio practice and establish prominent careers in the field.
“The larger galleries have brought international attention to Los Angeles and helped its economy,” he explains. “(But) artists like Laura Owens, Mark Grotjahn, Paul McCarthy, and Mary Weatherford have been in LA for years and have amazing careers and maintained their studio practice.”
Los Angeles is a town where art-world denizens wear many hats to support the big picture. Fahler works as studio assistant to top-name artists and has his own studio practice, apart from co-running BBQLA. It’s a much different atmosphere than New York, where it’s generally looked down upon to occupy more than one role at a time.
Studio visits with artists are a great way to see fresh work while directly supporting the local creative scene. “I love to go to artists’ studios and see their practice, hear what music they listen to, and see the things they have that inspire them that hang in their studio,” says local art collector Susan Hancock.
Artist Patrick Martinez expanded on Hancock’s sentiment. “I love finding untapped rhythms in Los Angeles and exposing them to viewers,” he says as we ventured into his paint-splattered studio. Martinez is a Latino artist whose work represents iconic elements within communities of color in southern California. His art combines cultural messaging and appropriation. One of the latest addresses police brutality through subtle paintings that recreate traditional scenes from Pee-Chee American school folders.
Just down the street from Martinez’s studio in downtown LA lies artist Kenton Parker’s workspace. Parker, who began his practice in street art, now focuses on whimsical paintings and installations that trigger memories and are reminiscent of his coming-of-age. Parker, who works between LA and Miami, mirrors the link between the two cities in his pieces. Brightly colored canvases, deeply reminiscent of a childhood innocence, take center stage in his practice.
A few minutes drive north is Echo Park, a neighborhood home to Peggy Noland and Seth Bogart. Their store, Wacky Wacko, is an art installation in and of itself—a vibrant mix of papier-mâché sculptures are featured alongside apparel and home goods that regurgitate the artists’ aesthetic. Noland, who is known for her wearable works, creates custom pieces for pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna. Bogart who was described as a “DIY David Bowie” by the Los Angeles Times, blends the worlds of fashion, art, and entertainment through his personal work and collaborations with artists like Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna and designer Hedi Slimane, former creative director at Yves Saint Laurent.
With so many platforms for expression, the city holds a little something for everyone. Los Angeles, and its increasing ties between art and entertainment in today’s digital age, is a creator and mirror of contemporary culture. There is distinctness to the work here that reflects social norms and their radical opposition—often presented through a palette that mirrors the warmth of the California sky.
This place has always been home to dreamers and in today’s world it is exceptionally so. There is an air of mystery and opportunity that has made a call to artists—a place of transformation and growth. This city is home to the next wave of contemporary art.
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