“Art all around us, if we have but eyes to see.” Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Sprawled across 20 acres between the ocean and downtown, LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States. Its collection of over 135,000 objects encompasses both the geographic world and Los Angeles’s uniquely diverse population, and illuminates 6,000 years of art, from ancient to modern, from new and unexpected points of view.

Museum as Work of Art

Symmetric Shape of LACMA

Outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a work of art in itself – Los Angeles, CA, USA

The art of the Los Angeles Museum of Art is not limited to its collections and exhibits. The grounds and even the buildings themselves are works of art. One of the most striking of these is the recently completed Resnick Exhibition Pavilion. It is the largest purpose-built, naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world. Designed by the renowned Italian Architect, Renzo Piano, it unifies the core of the museum’s campus.

The calm and cool travertine-clad siding and glazed, saw-toothed roof are accentuated by bright red curved fiberglass structures. You would be in good company to describe them as art, looking for the work’s title and artist’s name at their base. But no, these house the building’s air conditioning equipment and other building systems. Hence, architecture and the every-day necessities were made into art.

Describing this project, Piano wrote:

[…]. You also have a need for calm, serenity, and even a quality of voluptuousness connected with the contemplation of a work of art.

Nature as Art Inspiration

Palm Gardens Nature Inspiration

The Palm Gardens at the LACMA showing that art itself has its roots in nature – Los Angeles, CA, USA

As you wander the grounds, the Palm Gardens will enchant you. Like the art collection, which spans 6,000 years of art history, the gardens contain a huge variety of palms. They also include ancient species that co-habitated with dinosaurs. Also, there are stately palms that line modern highways. Set against the hustle and bustle of the City of Dreams, these gardens create their own dreams, and a quiet aura of slow, even expanded time. Viewed from one angle, they exude an almost Victorian decorative sense. However, from another, a clarifying lens of contemporary minimalism filters the view.

Nature is original art. Sometimes, art seems to capture and echo nature. Here, palms echo street lights. And just around the corner, Chris Burden’s “Urban Lights,” an art installation of antique street lights, echoes a forest of palm trees. 

Urban Lights

Only in Los Angeles are lamp posts so exciting. “Urban Lights,” 202 restored cast iron antique street lamps set in a grid pattern, form an entry focal point for the museum. It is, in a sense, the pulsing heart of the museum. Consequently, they draw people into an open-air temple that leaves us in awe.

The story is that one sunny afternoon, artist Chris Burden was wandering through the Rose Bowl Flea Market with his friend Paul Schimmel, then chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Schimmel’s son Max, 11, ran over, excited about a vendor selling disassembled vintage street lamps. Max was enthralled by them and urged Chris to check them out. These became the first two of the 202 vintage street lamps from the 1920’s and 1930’s from around the Los Angeles area that now make up “Urban Lights.” 

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. – Confucius