In late 2024, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is set to complete construction of its brand-new David Geffen Galleries. The building will house the museum’s permanent collection of 150,000 objects and reestablish its status as the largest art museum in the western United States. LACMA’s Resnick Exhibition Pavilion and Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) remain open to the public, presenting rotating artworks from the permanent collection.
While Los Angeles eagerly awaits this expanded campus, there is so much incredible art to see in the meantime. An enduring highlight of Museum Row in LA’s Miracle Mile district, LACMA attracts close to 1 million annual visitors. It’s a prime destination for a date, a day out solo or with friends, and for introducing children to the wonders of the art world. Expect an astounding diversity in eras, mediums, cultures and messages, so much so that experts and novices alike can share in their own versions of art appreciation. There’s also ample interpretive text plus optional audio tours and a musical soundtrack to enhance the visitor experience.
Highlights of LACMA
From Ai Weiwei’s monumental Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads to Richard Serra’s 70-feet-long, 12-feet-high rusted steel Band, contemporary icons of the art world command attention across LACMA’s grandest venues. Your personal museum highlights might be towering installations or the sparest of sketches. Do not miss the Modern Art Gallery on the top floor of BCAM. It is an exceptional space where you can admire works by such masters as Picasso, Magritte, Rivera, Kollwitz and countless others.
LACMA’s Modern Art Gallery
The biggest names in modern art are comprehensively represented on the walls of the Modern Art Gallery on Level 3 of BCAM. If you’re the average visitor with a burgeoning interest in art, who wants to see paintings you might recognize, by artists you’ve definitely heard of, then focus your visit on this gallery. It’s actually 12 galleries covering 16,000 square feet of immaculately lit space, displaying a rotating selection of mostly American and European art from 1900 to the 1960s.
LACMA’s collection features 21 works by Pablo Picasso, including paintings, drawings and sculptures. Expect to see numerous Picasso works, which might include the 1903 Portrait of Sebastia Junyer Vidal, exemplary of the artist’s “blue period,” and later cubist masterpieces like 1955’s The Women of Algiers, after Delacroix (Variation D).
Ponder Surrealist René Magritte’s famous 1929 painting, The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe). A realistic image of a pipe over the declaration “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” evokes an amusing thought experiment over the nature of image and reality. See one of Henri Matisse’s largest paintings, 1919’s Tea, marking his departure from Fauvism, and revolutionary Expressionist masterpieces by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Käthe Kollwitz and her haunting prints, woodcuts and sculptures represent German Expressionism at its most ominous. Her works stand out as rare examples of a woman artist whose genius was recognized in her prime as well as today.
A Los Angeles art museum must showcase masters from the Americas as well as Europe. LACMA has two Jackson Pollock paintings in its collection. Both are prime examples of the famed Abstract Expressionist’s signature drip technique, a visual amalgam of frenzy and control. Two Diego Rivera paintings are also in LACA’s collection: a portrait of Frida Kahlo and the vibrantly bucolic Flower Day (Dia de Flores).
Chris Burden’s Metropolis II and Urban Light
Two of LACMA’s largest and most popular works are by the local LA artist Chris Burden (1946-2015). His Urban Light (2008) installation near the BCAM entrance, next to the museum’s on-site restaurant, has become a downtown icon. The grid of 202 ornate, antique cast-iron street lights, which are illuminated between dusk and dawn, makes a delightful backdrop for photos. Burden sourced the street lights, most dating to the 1920s and 30s, from cities across Southern California.
Burden’s eye-catching and ear-catching kinetic sculpture, Metropolis II, is on BCAM’s Level 1. It’s viewable from the ground level and from above, equally compelling for all ages, and one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. The sculpture represents an imaginary, ever-busy city complete with 18 roadways, more than 1,000 die-cast miniature cars in non-stop motion, plus electric loop trains and trolleys. Its construction of steel beams, wooden blocks, magnets, conveyor chains, Lego bricks, Lincoln Logs and assorted metals calls to mind the fanciful model-building of childhood, albeit transformed into an engineering marvel. Stay for a while and watch the action; you might find yourself mesmerized, with an expanded notion of what it means to view art.
Robert Irwin’s Miracle Mile
Robert Irwin is the artist behind Miracle Mile, a site-specific installation investigating light, color, space and sequence. The 36-foot work of art comprises 66 fluorescent tubes in different hues and degrees of luminosity. Experience how the human eye strives to find a pattern and perceives a sense of balance. Irwin also designed the palm tree garden in LACMA’s courtyard.
Current LACMA Exhibitions
LACMA’s programming is diverse and dynamic, so keep an eye on its current exhibitions lineup. Here are some of the exhibitions on display (at the time of publication):
- New Abstracts: Recent Acquisitions in the Resnick Pavilion through May 29, 2023.
- Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group, 1938-1945, through June 19, 2023 in the Resnick Pavilion.
- Afro-Atlantic Histories through September 10, 2023.
- Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age, 1952-1982 through July 2, 2023 at BCAM Level 2.
LACMA is closed on Wednesdays, but time slots for entry are available every other day of the week. Walk-up tickets are available but time slots can sell out, so it’s advisable to buy timed-entry tickets online or by calling the ticket office at 323-857-6010.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5909 Wilshire Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Looking for more great museums in Los Angeles? Read our Museum Monday profiles of the La Brea Tar Pits and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.