Articles and Features

Los Angeles City Guide for Art Lovers

By Peter Letzelter-Smith

Unlike most great cities of art, Los Angeles is not an ancient place (at least not in the sense of large-scale human settlement). Though there was a modest human footprint in the area prior to the late-nineteenth century, it was not until the turn of the twentieth — driven by the discovery of oil and rapid growth of the film industry — that the City of Angels quickly grew into a metropolis. After early struggles developing access to enough to fresh water — as so darkly chronicled in the film Chinatown — the area grew rapidly as people followed the economic upsurge that took place. Within a few decades, Los Angeles was one of the world’s most important cities, epicenter of a global movie industry — and suddenly home to individuals and institutions wealthy enough to build a dynamic art scene.


MUSEUMS

The Getty Center

Not only does the Getty Center house one of the world’s premier collections of art, it’s dramatic setting is also one of the most striking to be found anywhere. Sitting high atop a hill overlooking the city in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Richard Meier designed buildings and Robert Irwin designed gardens are spectacular in their own right. The facility, its environment, and its rich permanent collection and vital series of contemporary exhibits make visiting it a holistically whole experience.

A museum that is utterly of Los Angeles, the LACMA has grown since its beginnings in 1965 to become the largest American art museum west of the Mississippi River. It offers a permanent collection spanning 6,000 years of art from the many cultures that are now a presence in this most diverse of cities. It also fully embraces contemporary art, including the motion picture industry that is so imprinted on LA’s history (the new headquarters of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be opening next door in 2019). The LACMA is home to one of the world’s most important collections of Islamic art, along with significant Asian and Latin American collections, including works by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and José Clemente Orozco.

One of the country’s premier modern art museums, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) features three distinct locations in LA that offer ongoing cutting-edge exhibitions and a significant, widely divergent permanent collection. Concentrating on works created since 1940, holdings include works by Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, and Ansel Adams (over 70, in fact).


GALLERIES

Los Angeles was the site of Larry Gagosian’s first gallery, which opened in 1980 and displayed works by Eric Fischl, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and David Salle at formative moments of their careers. Now including 16 galleries spanning three continents, Gagosian’s LA gallery moved to Beverly Hills in 1995 and has remained one of the most important galleries in the city.

Founded in Santa Monica in 1994, Blum & Poe now has three locations, including its expanded LA gallery in Culver City (the other two are in New York and Tokyo). Though offering a robust presence of contemporary Asian art, especially Japanese and Korean works, the gallery embraces the diverse reality that is modern Los Angeles, regularly presenting provocative exhibitions of both established and emerging artists.

With its roots in Zurich, Switzerland, where the first Hauser & Wirth gallery was opened in 1992, the LA outpost opened in 2016 (after New York and London locations had been established in preceding years). Housed in a historic building that was once a flour mill, it is a fully functioning arts center based on the rural Somerset gallery that Hauser & Wirth opened in 2014. Not only a gallery space emphasizing modern and contemporary art, the facility also hosts a wide range of performing arts and live artist events.


WHERE TO SHOP

Located in tree-lined splendor in Melrose Place in the heart West Hollywood, this luxury retail space offers the world’s finest in fashion, decor, and art tastefully presented in an array of rooms. A gallery-like shopping experience.

Within walking distance of Apartment by The Line is the flagship store of Maxfield. Renovated in 2016, it features both exclusive designer fashion and beauty brands and the latest in original, innovative LA-based fashion labels. The retail space, which is becoming the hub for an area of design and fashion pop-ups, is partnered with the vintage-furniture gallery across the street.

A retail anchor for the Los Feliz neighborhood near Griffith Park since 1996, connoisseurs consider this to be one of the world’s finest bookstores. Known for its friendly and passionate staff, top-flight readings, and extensive collection of books about LA culture, it should be on the pilgrimage list for any bibliophile. And nearby are buildings designed by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, R. M. Schindler, and Richard Neutra.


WHERE TO EAT

The native Angeleno founder and chef, Ray Garcia, combines his Latino heritage with training at the California School of Culinary Arts — which was a detour from law school after getting a degree in political science at UCLA. After working at a couple of LA’s best restaurants, including FIG, Garcia opened Broken Spanish in order to explore his LA cuisine with a strong dose of sustainability and support for sustainable farming. Thrillist named it one of the 31 best Mexican restaurants in the United States and Food & Wine pegged Garcia as one of the country 10 best Mexican chefs.

Photo courtesy of LA Weekly

Not only offering contemporary French cuisine that’s earned it Michelin stars, the location of Patina in the heart of LA — in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the LA Philharmonic and a block from MOCA and The Broad museum of modern art — is hard to beat. With a spectacular cocktail bar and modernist cuisine, it captures the cutting-edge aspect of LA culture.

Located in the West Adams neighborhood, this restaurant’s menu is rooted in the soul food of LA’s African American community, which is sometimes overshadowed by the city’s eclecticism. A native of Watts who first learned to cook from his grandmother, founding chef Keith Corbin brings a modern sensibility and focus on fresh produce to his menu scattered with Southern dishes that migrated west, including black eye pea fritters and grilled pork collar.


WHERE TO SLEEP

Billed as “LA’s most walkable neighborhood,” the Design District is home to La Peer. Fully embracing the ethos of a district built around design and art — the Pacific Design Center is within walking distance — the hotel includes a mural by the street-artist RETNA and fiber installation by Tanya Aguiñiga. According to its designer Gulla Jónsdóttir (in an interview with Forbes), the hotel is meant to be “a space where art, music, fashion, poetry, film and architecture intertwine to a cacophony of spatial harmony.”

Built in 1929 and modeled on the property of French royalty in the Loire Valley, the Château d’Amboise, this is both a beautiful hotel and LA landmark. It’s been the backdrop for many films and music videos and the one-time residence of luminaries like Jim Morrison, Lana Del Rey, and sadly John Belushi at the time of his death. Carefully renovated in 1990 so as to retain its iconic historic status, today it offers a memorable experience on Sunset Boulevard.

Featuring a second-story greenhouse and surrounded by the Koreatown, one of the city’s most vibrant, multiethnic communities, the LINE’s rooms offer huge wall-like windows that provide epic views of the City of Angels. Marked by many well-preserved art deco buildings, Koreatown features a thriving restaurant scene and a unique Latino-Korean culture.