Halfway between the beach and downtown LA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's sprawling campus feels like a city of its own.
Coming as close to the street as possible, The Art of the Americas Building used to loom - some said oppressively - over Wilshire Boulevard. But Fan Palms have now grown to a height that softens the effect, and the shadow play on the building creates a much more interesting facade.
LACMA lies in an area known as Museum Row, across the street from the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum, and Craft and Folk Art Museum, and adjacent to the Page Museum and LaBrea Tar Pits.
The recently renamed Art of the Americas Building was added in 1986 to increase exhibition space and to house the expanding modern and contemporary art collections. That was an exciting year for art lovers in LA, as two major museum openings happened within months of each other: LACMA’s addition and the new Museum of Contemporary Art.
Originally a part of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was formed as an independent, art-focused institution in 1961. LA architect William Pereira won the commission over Mies van der Rohe to design what was to be the largest new museum built in the country since the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. Three buildings comprised the first phase that opened in 1965 at its present location: the Ahmanson Building, the Bing Center, and what is now the Hammer Building.
The Palm Sculpture garden, designed by artist Robert Irwin and landscape architect Paul Comstock, utilizes over thirty types of palm trees that help unify and give a cohesive look to the entire museum campus. In the Rodin Sculpture Garden, palms help soften street traffic noise and provide a visual canopy that beautifully complements the powerful bronzes.
Chris Burden’s Urban Light graces the front of LACMA’s new entrance on Wilshire Boulevard. The installation is comprised of 202 antique cast-iron streetlights gathered from around the Los Angeles area. Powered by solar panels, they offer a wonderful, warm welcome to both museum attendees and passing traffic at night.
At one point it looked as if the entire mish mosh of LACMA’s buildings might be razed and replaced with a whole new Rem Koolhaas-designed museum for an ungodly price. Cooler heads prevailed, and Renzo Piano was hired to design a three phase addition, completing the first, Broad Contemporary Art Museum, in early 2008. We'll continue exploring the buildings and collections of LACMA in an upcoming post.
Learn more: lacma.org