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5 Reasons to Check Out the Los Angeles Art Scene
One highlight: the old Scottish Rite Masonic Temple by the Guess brothers.
Around the Globe 17 Apr 2019

For years, New York has been the capital of the American art scene. Artists who fled to the West Coast were either not good enough to make it in NYC or not tough enough to withstand the crazy pace and hellish weather. At least, so the story went. Set in the land of Hollywood and eternal summer, the Los Angeles art scene was vapid, lazy, superficial, and for the longest time, simply nonexistent.
All that is completely changing. Since the Ferus Gallery opened its doors in the ‘50s, the Los Angeles art scene has been on a slow and steady climb. It’s not hard to see why artists are flocking to the City of Angels. Warm weather, ample space to think and breathe, smog aside, a rich and diverse cultural landscape and cheaper rents are all luring artists out West. And with more and more artists setting up shop in Los Angeles, galleries and collectors inevitably follow.
This year, this steady trickle turned into a flood with the arrival of the city’s first world-renowned fair. The only Frieze that L.A. will be getting anytime soon, the fair assembled 60 top-tier contemporary galleries. The result was a “sold-out success.”
The Paramount Studios backlot during Frieze L.A.
In case you missed it, don’t worry. Frieze’s arrival only confirmed what industry insiders have known for years: that today’s Los Angeles art scene is hotter than the rampant California wildfires. It’s definitely on par with New York—don’t @ me, the New York Times itself said so. Below, discover five great reasons to discover the Los Angeles art scene for yourself.

1) LACMA’s Getting a Facelift

lacma remodel rendering
Architectural rendering of plans for the new LACMA.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the largest museum on the West Coast, just got approved for a $650 million redesign. The museum’s entire block-long campus will be rebuilt according to a design by award-winning architect Peter Zumthor. After some scuffled between critics and county committees, it looks like LACMA is going space-age; the new space will include a glass sky bridge stretching from one side of the street to the other.
Unclear what will happen to the iconic lights sculpture.
The new building certainly won’t pop up overnight—the project is tentatively slated to finish in two years—but time is running out to see LACMA in its current state. Hurry on over to catch it before bulldozers break ground on the project. Since overall exhibition space will be shrinking with the new building, this may be your last chance to see LACMA’s huge, 57,000-piece collection all in one place. Much of the artwork will be spreading into other satellite museums or into the community.

2) Multicultural Mecca

Chicano mural in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles art scene rookie status and anti-establishment vibe means more space for non-European art traditions and minority artists. While the Western art canon is as strongly rooted in New York as on the other side of the Atlantic, L.A. has always been the weird, nonconformist little sibling. For years, the city has fostered alternative, freewheeling movements.
Today, this diversity lives on in the artists and museums that call L.A. home. Close to the Mexican border, L.A. as a whole has a strong Latinx flavor and contains countless works of Hispanic and Pre-Columbian art, from ancient to contemporary. From the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach to LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, L.A.’s museums make it the best city to see Latinx art in America.
Meanwhile, the Museum of African American Art and the California African American Museum offer permanent collections and rotating exhibits from the finest African American artists from the country’s history. Finally, drive north for 20 minutes and you’ll hit Little Tokyo and Chinatown, each containing a wealth of museums and galleries focusing on Asian and Asian American artists.
David Alekhuogie, photograph from pull_up series.
As New York Times writer Jason Farago noted, many East Coast-trained artists of color end up setting up show out West. David Alekhuogie, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Christina Quarles all call L.A. home, as well as countless other local and international artists.

3) May the Force be With You

Aerial view of museum plan.

If you think a sky bridge is futuristic, wait until you see plans for the new Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. Star Wars nerds and art students finally have something in common: both are rejoicing at this new project. Set to open in 2021, the museum will house George Lucas’ and his wife Mellody Hobson’s personal art collection, including work by David Hockney and Norman Rockwell. And, of course, the Lucas Museum couldn’t be complete without some O.G. Star Wars memorabilia.
In case people still don’t connect the dots, the museum will be shaped like a giant spaceship hovering over Exposition Park, just south of downtown L.A.

4) Guess Who Moved into the Old Mason Temple

That’s right, the Marciano Art Foundation. Guess Jeans co-founders and brothers Paul and Maurice Marciano bought the old Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in L.A. and converted it into a space to exhibit their contemporary art collection. The Marciano Art Foundation opened to the public last fall, and best of all, entry is free.
The ornate and mysterious building is already enough reason to visit the foundation. This is the first time in the building’s half-century history that it’s been open to the public. Besides the Marciano’s impressive collection, you’ll discover mosaics, ornaments and occult symbols left behind by the Masons. BYOCT: bring your own conspiracy theory. You’ll also discover art by the likes of Mike Kelley, Christopher Wool and Jonas Wood, as well as quirky temporary exhibits on the first floor.

5) The Best Things in Life Are Free

parking banksy
Casual Banksy in Downtown L.A.
When they say America is the land of the free, they don’t mean literally. Unlike in European countries, where arts and culture is often made available for free or very cheap for students, young people and locals, most art museums in the states will cost a couple Beverly Hills juices. But broke art lovers need not despair, because L.A. is home to countless murals and other pieces of street art and public art.
Maybe it’s the ugly, quasi-suburban sprawl that characterizes L.A., but something about the city begs to be dressed up with outdoor artwork. Then there’s the city’s size: geographically, L.A. is massive, which means endless walls to paint on and limitless possibilities for installations. Although quality might be hit or miss—most people’s interaction with public art starts and ends with Instagramming a photo with the notorious angel wings—quantity is definitely not lacking.
From Venice Beach to the East Side, every neighborhood has something to offer in terms of outdoor art. You can find guides to public art by neighborhood online, and you may even be able to catch a temporary event, like the L.A. Public Art Biennial, which debuted last summer, or the Beyond the Streets exhibit in Chinatown. Even Frieze promoted an L.A. Walk of Art, a series of self-guided tours through the city including galleries and restaurants as well as outdoor art and architecture.

Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via Los Angeles Magazine, Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner / The Boundary / Archinect, LACMA, Mural World, David Alekhuogie, Curbed LA, Culture Trip, Fotospot.

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