For Freaks and Geeks: The Ultimate LA Museum Crawl

Packed with exhibits on 3D art, iconic sculptures, technological wonders and even weed, the Los angeles Museum Trail is as wonderful as it is whacky.  
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The Broad has a collection of contemporary art from the 1950s to the present. Photo By: Santi Visalli/Archive Photos/Getty images

A house atop a hill, close to the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, looks like just another secluded, luxurious bungalow. But step inside, and it reveals itself to be the super quirky Hollywood Sculpture Garden, an exhibition space filled with 3D paintings, metallic sculptures, and paint-splattered ties and jeans. As Angelenos would say, “It’s such an LA thing.”

What defines this culturally rich city, however, is open to interpretation by its hundreds of cultural spaces. There are the iconic institutions that are worth a trip in their own right: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Broad Museum, the Getty Center, and Griffith Observatory. Then there are temporary exhibitions, eclectic personal collections and historic homes, exploring everything from death to disgusting food.

Just this year, there have been exhibitions dedicated to fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, and Louis Vuitton, the latter included early 20th-century special-order trunks, Art Deco perfume bottles, and window displays. August saw the launch of Weedmaps Museum of Weed, which explored the history of marijuana through interactive exhibits, art installations, and historical artefacts. If you, too, love museums, there are a host of options to choose from here. We’ve picked a mix of mainstream and quirky places to visit for a well-rounded trip.

 

A Good Day to Die

A bright neon sun, visible even in sunlight, appears like a warning outside the Museum of Death on Hollywood Boulevard. It says “die” and below that “death is everywhere,” and drives home the fact with a few skulls, a skeleton and a hangman’s noose. The museum began as a hobby for JD Healy and Catherine Shultz, who wrote letters to serial killers, and exhibited these and related artwork once a year. Now, it covers different aspects of death such as hangings, suicides, serials killers, famous assassinations, funeral services, cannibalism, and taxidermy, and it requires some time. Also handy is an empty stomach and steely resolve when viewing the severed head of French serial killer Henri Landru, shrivelled organs, gory pictures of hangings (a postcard set), crime scene photos and stuffed pets. Small televisions screen documentaries related to death, murder and misery. Museum of Death is open Sunday–Thursday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–10 p.m. Admission $17/Rs1,200.

 

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One of LA’s most popular landmarks is Chris Burden’s Urban Light installation at LACMA (top-left); Robby Gordon’s Hollywood Sculpture Garden (right) has life-like installations and sculptures; Velveteria Museum (bottom-left) exhibits paintings with black velvet as their base. Photos By: Robert Landau/Alamy/Indiapicture (trees), SuperStock/Super Stock/Dinodia photo library (velvet); Photo courtesy: Hollywood Sculpture Gardeen (sculpture)

Art with a View

The Hollywood Sculpture Garden in the Hollywood Hills is a less dreary experience. Robby Gordon, a former veterinarian, showcases his collection of art on the walls and ceilings, in passages and in the bathroom. In the garden, a rocky path leads to colourful bulldogs, metal sculptures which look like they’re straight out of Transformers, intertwined figures, yarn art, colourful mannequins and more. Visits are by appointment only, and Gordon enjoys taking people to his studio, handing out glasses to view 3D paintings, and showing off the view of downtown LA. All of the artwork is for sale. Hollywood Sculpture Garden is open by appointment; email drrobbygordon@gmail.com.

 

Elvis in Velvet

In Chinatown, collectors Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin exhibit a fraction of their 3,000 velvet paintings at the Velveteria Museum. Velvet paintings are categorised as those in which velvet (usually black in colour) is used as a support or base. Fuchsia curtains part to reveal 400 velvet paintings from different styles and eras, some vintage and some modern. Elvis hangs out with Jesus and Miley Cyrus, a vintage collection of naked women lie in the adult’s-only backroom, and a black-lit room reveals a wonderland of bright clowns, the devil, naked women, and painted unicorns. Velveteria Museum is open Wednesday–Monday, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Admission $10/Rs700.

 

 

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Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (right) porcelain sculpture is a popular draw at the Broad which also displays Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup Can (left). Photos By: Joanna Lobo (sculpture); Photo Courtesy: The Broad (soup can)

Technology and History

One of the city’s strangest museums, The Museum of Jurassic Technology, has a name as vague as its exhibits. Founder David Wilson’s collection of curiosities is difficult to pinpoint. The oddities on display have some historical significance even if they are completely disconnected from each other. A maze of dimly lit corridors leads to different rooms and exhibits sealed behind wood and glass. There are letters to the astronomers at Mt. Wilson Observatory, the string game cat’s cradle and its collectors, micro-mosaics, collections from LA trailer parks, and models of staircases.

Meanwhile, at the Borzoi Kabinet Theater, you have to wear 3D glasses to view the rotating program of films. Hidden away is the Tula Tea Room, a reconstruction of the study of Tsar Nicolas II from the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. This opens up to a green courtyard where a few birds fly about, and the two resident dogs warily eye visitors from their perches. It’s the perfect spot to sit, sip complimentary Georgian black tea, and reflect on the canines of the Soviet space program, beautifully immortalised in oil paints at the museum’s gallery. Museum of Jurassic Technology is open Thursday, 2 p.m.–8 p.m.; Friday–Sunday, noon – 6 p.m. Admission $10/Rs700.

 

The Museum as Art

Philanthropist J. Paul Getty’s Getty Center is a piece of architectural art in itself. Modern white buildings lead out to a landscaped garden, offering peace and great views. Architect Richard Meir designed the campus in a way that allows for ample natural light, which reflects off the stone walls.
The art is from the medieval era, spanning European and American history. Their current displays include an in-depth look at a 19th-century French chandelier that resembles a hot-air balloon, 18th century pastel portraits, and a selection of historic cameras, including the first mass-market digital camera. Getty Center is open Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m.– 5.30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Admission is free.

 

Broadly around

 

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Weedmaps Museum of Weeds took visitors through the history of cannabis with its trippy exhibits. Photo By: John Sciulli/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty images

Downtown LA

The Broad houses one of the world’s most prominent collections of postwar and contemporary art. There’s Jeff Koons’ giant balloon animals, Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Can,” and a corner for Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art. The Downtown LA (DTLA) icon is a sensory overload, the peak of which is a precious 30 seconds inside the Yayoi Kusama’s magical “Infinity Mirrored Room.” The Broad is surrounded by evidence of DTLA’s transition into the city’s artistic hub: the walls of former industrial buildings sport commissioned murals and graffiti. Once dilapidated spaces now house art galleries, wineries, breweries, and restaurants. Hauser & Wirth, for example, is an arts centre with a restaurant, chicken coop, garden and bookstore, all in a former flour mill. The gallery hosts screenings, family activities, and a rotating collection of exhibitions. Nearby, the non-profit Art Share LA offers residencies and support to artists. The Broad is open Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Admission is free, but special exhibits are $18/Rs1,300. Hauser & Wirth is open Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Admission is free.

 

Black Pride

Supporting artists is the guiding philosophy of the Underground Museum, possibly LA’s most understated such space. Run by a black art collective, the Underground includes a gallery, an intimate bookshop, a theatre, a meeting space, a yoga studio, and an organic market. The focus is on black excellence, and it’s no surprise that past visitors include Beyoncé and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. It has also hosted the mobile Free Black Women’s Library, where people read and swap books. It may be low-key, but the Underground is LA too: an open space that informs and educates, even as it entertains. Underground Museum is open Wednesday–Sunday, noon–7 p.m. Admission is free.

  • Joanna Lobo is a freelance writer and journalist. A silent feminist (they do exist!), food snob, and Potterhead, she prefers canine company to that of humans. She actively seeks out cheap eating haunts, and weird and wondrous places, when travelling.

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