Friday, September 2, 2011

"Los Angeles County Museum of Art"

"Urban Light', Chris Burden, LACMA, 2011.
In August, I ventured out west to see what kind of trouble I could stir up in Los Angeles. While there, I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for the first time in years.  There are numerous New Yorkers who frequently bemoan the lack of arts and culture in LA, and to them I say: "Don't be a hater." Overall I found the experience to be quite worth the visit.

Approaching the museum from Wilshire Boulevard, along the Miracle Mile, I was first struck by the beauty of the street-lamp installation in front of the main entrance. Artist Chris Burden has collected and installed 202 vintage street-lamps into an impressive statement. But this being LA, before I could actually enjoy it, I had to first find a place to park the car. Making the block a few times, I eventually found my way to the underground parking facility, and then up the glass enclosed elevator to the museum grounds.

Renzo Piano, LACMA, 2011.
Coming up from the garage, I was immediately impressed with the bold Renzo Piano addition to the museum. His choice of stark red and blinding white somehow seemed perfectly at home in its sprawling surroundings.
Renzo Piano, LACMA, 2011.
The structures are both uber-modern and classical at once, and make a valiant effort to unify the other buildings on the 20-acre compound. Over the years, since its inception in 1961, the museum's collection of both art and architecture has grown, with the progress of expansion being rather obvious.

Renzo Piano, LACMA, 2011.
Piano's bold strokes, combined with regionally appropriate landscaping, help tie it all together. Again, and pardon me for playing into the stereotypes, but it all felt tré-LA!

Once inside, after paying almost the same amount for parking as museum admission, I decided to also focus on the works that to me best represented modern art masterpieces as related to Los Angeles.

One could not help but notice all the long lines, as crowds queued up to see the Tim Burton exhibit. Fitting, as he is a film-maker and this is Hollywood. Luckily, I had already seen the show at the MOMA in NYC, so I skipped the lines and made my way to other galleries.
Jeff Koons, LACMA, 2011.
 Of course, what's more LA, than Jeff Koons? His 'balloon' sculptures are a real crowd-pleaser, with their juxtaposition of contrasting surfaces, the reflections incorporating the viewer as well as the surrounding works.  These too, I had already seen in NY, on the roof-top of the Met a few years back. But what I had never seen in person, was his Michael and Bubbles piece, which I found to perfectly sum up Koon's love affair with glam and kitsch.
Jeff Koons, LACMA, 2011.
And what a great statement Michael Jackson makes, with his celebrity status in epic proportion, achieving near immortality. Alas, poor Michael was the youngest of the Jackson 5 to check out - heck, even his chimp out-lived him! But here in the museum, he will forever be, the King of Pop.

He is in good company too, as the same space shows the other Priest of Pop, Andy Warhol.

In fact, the museum is full of all the masters one might expect to find in a world-class art institution such as LACMA. They have Picasso and Matisse, Diego Rivera and René Magritte. I even found a Rembrandt in the permanent collection.

The museum also has a lot of space, (again, LA!), and space is exactly what is needed to house the works of one of my favorite artists - Richard Serra.

Richard Serra, LACMA, 2011.
Serra's works of undulating rusted Corten steel always amaze me, with there weight and force and presence. At LACMA the piece occupies a gallery all to itself, and the viewer is invited to wander the perimeter of the imposing structure, tucking within its towering walls, should one be so brave.

Of course, what I love most about visiting any museum, is the opportunity for discovery. And I am pleased to report that my favorite piece of the day, was a work by an artist I had only read about.

Jack Pierson, LACAM, 2011.
Jack Pierson's piece, "Last Chance Lost",  is a seemingly random collection of letters, apparently salvaged from various signs, and pieced together to form a message.  Pierson gained some notoriety a few years back, when it was claimed that then Creative Director of Barneys, Simon Doonan, has copied his style with the in-store signage used in Barneys Co-ops, in NYC. Of course, Pierson wasn't the first or last artist to use signage, lettering, or neon in his work, and in the end most artists appropriate ideas. Coincidentally, the fuss came at the same time as Pierson's solo exhbit at a NY gallery. One can only guess that the press from the ruckus must have drawn media attention to the exhibit.

Controversy aside,  Pierson's work at LACMA really spoke to me, as I love signage and neon art. Further, it felt perfectly Los Angeles, with its message illuminated and forceful, though still somewhat vintage.

It was a great ending to a great afternoon in Los Angeles.

When you are in LA, be sure to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And when you're not, check out their website,

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