Located on Museum Row in the Miracle Mile, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of nearly 140,000 objects that illuminate 6,000 years of artistic expression across the globe. From world-famous masterpieces by Picasso and Magritte to iconic public artworks like Chris Burden's Urban Light, read on for the Top 10 must-sees and things to do at LACMA.
NOTE: Paintings may occasionally be rotated out of public viewing or loaned to other museums.
Chris Burden - "Urban Light"
Since its opening in February 2008, Chris Burden's Urban Light has become LACMA's most popular artwork, the face of the museum, and an emblem of Los Angeles on par with landmarks like the Hollywood Sign and the Hollywood Bowl. Open 24 hours, Urban Light welcomes locals and visitors from around the world to take selfies and group photos.
Urban Light is composed of 202 cast iron street lamps from the 1920s and '30s that once lit the streets of LA. Burden said that street lamps like these "were symbols of a civilized and sophisticated city—safe after dark and beautiful to behold." The solar-powered lights are switched on every night at dusk, and are lit until 10pm.
In honor of the sculpture's 10th anniversary, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation supported the replacement of all 309 incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs, resulting in a 90% power savings for LACMA while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.
Though it's not as iconic as Urban Light, Burden's Metropolis II (2010) is also a must-see and visitor favorite. The kinetic sculpture is modeled after a fast-paced, frenetic modern city. Metropolis II has 1,100 custom-made cars (with four different body types) speeding through the city at 240 scale miles per hour on a system of 18 roadways, including one six-lane freeway. There are also eight loop trains and five trolleys. Most of the 200-plus buildings in the sculpture are made with HABA blocks, along with LEGO bricks, Lincoln Logs, and Eames cards.
According to Burden, "The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars produce in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st century city." Metropolis II was installed at LACMA in January 2012 and is located on Level 1 of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM). For viewing times, visit the LACMA website.
Michael Heizer - "Levitated Mass"
For an "only in LA" experience, you can stand under a 150-million-year-old, 680,000-pound rock on the Resnick North Lawn. Designed "to last 3,500 years," Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass (2012) is a large-scale sculpture that features a 340-ton granite megalith balanced over a 456-foot-long concrete trench. The boulder's 105-mile route from a rock quarry in Riverside to its pre-dawn arrival at LACMA was a massive undertaking that attracted thousands of onlookers - the 11-day trek took place from Feb. 28 to March 10, 2012.
Levitated Mass is open daily from sunrise to sunset. The work is closed when it's raining.
Modern Art at BCAM
Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, the three-story Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) opened at LACMA in February 2008 and features 72,000 square feet of galleries and rotating exhibitions.
Located on Level 3 of BCAM, the Modern Art galleries have been redesigned in collaboration with another Pritzker winner, Frank Gehry and include new interpretive texts, themed audio tours, and an installation soundtrack. Following are a few of the Modern Art masterpieces on view at BCAM.
"Cold Shoulder" - Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop lexicon is characterized by his tongue-in-cheek parodies of popular advertising and comics, as in Cold Shoulder (1963), which was inspired by the DC Comics anthology Girls’ Romances. Lichtenstein’s precisely rendered compositions disguise the painstakingly handmade nature of his work. Mimicking the Benday-dot mechanical printing process, the artist hand-painted the matrix of dots that here constitute the woman’s skin.
"Flower Day" - Diego Rivera
Throughout his career, Diego Rivera created numerous easel paintings and watercolors representing the indigenous peoples of Mexico. Flower Day (Día de flores) (1925) is his earliest and most accomplished depiction of a seller of calla lilies. The unusual perspective of the flowers, which are seen from above, and the block-like forms of the figures are stylistic devices derived from Rivera's earlier cubist paintings. Rivera's first major painting to enter a public collection in the U.S., Flower Day was acquired by the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art (LACMA's parent institution) after winning first prize in the First Pan-American Exhibition of Oil Paintings.
"Mulholland Drive" - David Hockney
British-born artist David Hockney's great affection for the city of Los Angeles - his home for more than five decades before he moved to Normandy, France in 2018 - is evident in the many works inspired by its cultural iconography: luxurious swimming pools, sun-drenched landscapes, and handsome young men at play.
Painted from memory in just a few weeks, Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio (1980), the largest of Hockney's canvases, vividly captures the quintessential LA activity: driving. The personalized panoramic map of the city is based on the artist's daily trip from his home in the Hollywood Hills to his studio on Santa Monica Boulevard.
"The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe)" - René Magritte
Painted in 1929 when the artist was 30 years old, The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe) is considered a René Magritte masterpiece, a key Surrealist work, and an icon of modern art. A treatise on the impossibility of reconciling word, image, and object, it challenges the convention of identifying an image of an object as the thing itself. Presented in the style of an advertisement, with the neat cursive text forming a slogan-like caption under the image of the pipe, the painting prompts the viewer to ponder its conflicting messages. Magritte’s enigmatic use of text influenced a younger generation of artists, including John Baldessari, Marcel Broodthaers, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Ed Ruscha.
"Weeping Woman with Handkerchief" - Pablo Picasso
In early June 1937, Pablo Picasso completed his monumental antiwar canvas Guernica. During this time, he was preoccupied by the figure of the weeping woman, which first appeared among the sketches for his depiction of the devastating bombing raid on the Basque town of the painting’s title.
On June 26, Picasso painted Weeping Woman with Handkerchief. Modeled on his muse and partner, Surrealist photographer Dora Maar, Picasso’s portrayal conveys despair. One hand is silhouetted against her chest, with the white gauze handkerchief crumpled into a shapeless mass. By the time this painting was completed, Guernica had been installed in the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition, where it galvanized the world to address the horrors of the civil war raging in Spain.
The Resnick Pavilion is the largest purpose-built, naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world.
Also designed by Renzo Piano, the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion opened in 2010. The single-story, 45,000 square-foot structure is the largest purpose-built, naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world.
The Resnick Pavilion hosts special exhibits like the recent Obama Portraits Tour, Black American Portraits (through April 17, 2022), and the upcoming Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse (April 24 – Oct. 9, 2022).
Throughout the year, LACMA hosts numerous public events, from family-friendly virtual art classes and Andell Family Sundays @ Home to FILM at LACMA, Friday Art Night and the in-person Adult Art Class, which invites students (ages 16 and over) to learn fundamental drawing and painting skills with LACMA’s collection as inspiration.
Boone Children’s Gallery
The Boone Children’s Gallery is a free, creative space where visitors of all ages are invited to explore the art of brush painting. LACMA staff introduce painting techniques, offer tips, and provide high chairs for very young artists. No prior art-making experience is necessary. NOTE: reservations to the Boone Children's Gallery do not include admission to the museum.
Jazz at LACMA
One of LA's most popular outdoor music series, Jazz at LACMA celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021. Taking place on Friday nights during the season just steps from Urban Light, Jazz at LACMA has featured legends such as Wayne Shorter, John Clayton, Kenny Burrell, Les McCann, Billy Childs, Arturo Sandoval, Cannonball-Coltrane Project and Ernie Watts.
Ray's & Stark Bar
Named for legendary film producer Ray Stark (the original West Side Story, Lolita, The Night of the Iguana, Funny Girl), Ray's & Stark Bar serves seasonal fare from their wood-burning oven, including Neapolitan-style pizza, housemade pastas, salads made with fresh ingredients from their own garden, and small plates to share.
The three-course prix fixe menu features the vegan Beet & Pear to start; Mary's Roasted Chicken with maitake mushroom, baby carrots, yogurt; and Tres Leche Budino for the sweet finish.
Protip: LACMA Members enjoy a year-round 10% discount.
Bonus: LACMA Store
Visit the LACMA Store during a particular exhibition and you’re sure to find a great selection of related items to take home as a souvenir of the experience. The collection includes posters, apparel, jewelry and housewares, stationery, and out-of-print exhibition catalogs. Fine art limited editions and multiples include Bruce Davidson's "Untitled (Ordering at Tiny Naylor's Los Angeles)," best known as the cover photo of the Beastie Boys' Ill Communication.