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10 Reasons Why LA is the World’s Best Art Destination This Year

10 Reasons Why LA is the World’s Best Art Destination This Year

Picture of Claire Baker
Updated: 11 December 2015
Los Angeles has long been the primary destination for modern popular culture in the US, but has also struggled to find a prime position on the nation’s contemporary art scene, often surpassed by the international reverence for New York. 2014 is LA’s time to shine, and there are ten very good reasons why the artists, art galleries and enemies of the status quo are set up for success this year.

1. MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) steps up

The great challenge to keep up with the times posed to any gallery which bears the loaded word ‘contemporary’ in its name is one which the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art is stepping back up to, after a hiatus of positive criticism on the world art scene. Only a few weeks into 2014 the museum’s new artistic director was named after much speculation in the art world and many hopes rested in various candidates. Philippe Vergne is set to bring new donors and a caring approach to the wellbeing of the museum and its acquisitions. His inaugural year coincides with the arrival of the much-anticipated Mike Kelley retrospective, which will make the move from New York to MOCA at the end of March.

Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, United States

Mike Kelley
Pay For Your Pleasure, 1988, installation view, dimensions variable , The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Gift of Timothy P. and Suzette L. Flood, photo: Brian Forrest | © The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts

2. Mike Kelley | back to base

The Detroit-born but LA-adopted multi-discipline artist produced the vast majority of his finest works in the city and was a mainstay at MOCA from its late-1970s beginnings, up until his premature demise in 2012. Upon his death, Holland Cotter of the New York Times described him as a ‘pungent commentator on American class, popular culture and youthful rebellion’. The description suits Kelley’s works and attitude to art, which featured eviscerated stuffed toys, shattered representations of the American dreams and faecal desecrations of childhood symbols. His art was always provocative and, to this day, relevant to contemporary social commentary. The abovementioned retrospective at MOCA commences on 31 March, having already toured New York and Amsterdam, and will be back home in LA until 28 July 2014 in MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary Building, a former warehouse situated in Little Tokyo.

Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, United States

3. Warehouses invite exhibitions

As money is being pumped into artistic projects in California, more space is needed to accommodate the new pieces produced and the oeuvres, which international buyers perceive as purchasable. Galleries can now exist wherever their creator wants to set up shop, as opposed to being limited to a designated artistic enclave. Traditionally, galleries have been situated on LA’s Westside, but now warehouses are being filled with colour thanks to cheaper rents, the fashionable allure of downtown neighbourhoods and the increasing accessibility of art ownership. These new spacious galleries are popping up everywhere and major galleries are even said to be looking to opening subsidiaries across town so as not to miss out on the latest craze which is proving profitable as people arriving in the city are getting dropped in front of the galleries which catch their fancy and not just parking up on the main artistic thoroughfares to peruse the tableaus on offer.

4. LA Art Shows the world

The LA Art Show has a way to go before it rivals New York’s Frieze or TEFAF Maastricht, but it has recently come to deserve a place alongside them as one of the world’s premier art shows. The 2014 show was the biggest and most ambitious yet, with participation from galleries from 20 countries, bringing the total presence to 51 international galleries in LA in January 2014. Palm Beach Show Group, responsible for setting up the annual show, have turned a resolutely determined head towards the East, focusing on new Asian art. The collaboration of artistic communities or bodies in Korea, China and other East-Asian countries has brought a renewed respectability to the show, which has also helped to pull in the artists and subsequently the crowds.

Los Angeles Convention Center, 1201 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

5. Andrea Fraser, the Queen of LA Art

Andrea Fraser positioned herself as the gallery visitor’s worst nightmare at the beginning of her career, posing as one such anonymous member of the public and proceeding to rub up against a pillar in a sexually-charged dalliance with an inanimate object much to the consternation and curiosity of the people around her. For her next stunt in the name of art, she attempted to pass herself off as a museum guide and created an equally uncomfortable and unfamiliar scenario for all concerned. She is now one of the leading names in LA’s art academia, as a member of the art department at the University of California in Los Angeles. She continues to shape young artists and reshape the considerations of taboo for those that come into contact with her works, and in 2014 we have the opportunity to let ourselves be guided by her re-conceptions at Take It or Leave It: Institutions, Image, Ideology exhibition at The Hammer.

The Hammer, 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024, United States

Andrea Fraser
© The Hammer and Andrea Fraser

6. LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Unlike MOCA, LACMA isn’t the sole reserve of contemporary art, but does engage its visitors with a contemporary mindset in the context of art’s long and ancient history. This idea is carried by the 340-tonne boulder, suspended above a concrete trench – called Levitated Mass, the artwork can provide an unconscious connection between the museum’s earliest exhibits dating from the beginning of art history, to the present day. This is a deliberate manipulation by director Michael Govan, who since 2006 has been giving LACMA the much-needed push towards the modern, despite its role as the West Coast’s leading art history museum. LACMA contributes in no small way to the evolution of LA as a key player in the US art industry, and this will only increase after its upcoming remodelling by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, known for his unconventional style.

LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, United States

7. Chris Burden lights the way

Another iconic LACMA installation is Urban Light, from contemporary artist Chris Burden. City residents are equally proud of the installation, which has a simple approach to making an artistic statement. It consists of 202 LA streetlights from the 1920s and 30s, reworked to provide a hazy ethereal light to visitors on arrival at LACMA after dark. A further such installation has been commissioned by the Rose Art Museum director, Christopher Bedford, another patron of the recent generation of controversial artists sprouting from LA. Burden started off as the artist that crucified himself on a car, shot himself in the arm and stayed motionless under a glass sheet for 45 hours. However, he is now becoming known as the artist that provides the atrium to the finest art establishments of LA.

LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, United States

8. The Broad goes in for the long haul

Eli Broad’s name is associated with two Fortune 500 companies and with an enormous wealth on the one side, and with exemplary philanthropy and a breathtaking art collection on the other. In 2015 these two sides of his name will come together in The Broad, a new contemporary art museum featuring the Broad’s collection of 2,000 works of art. Eli Broad is funding the project in its entirety, and it will open in 2015 as the newest addition to LA’s highly respectable art landscape, and also encouraging the existing museums to refresh their methods to keep up with the new museum opening up in 2015, which will count Warhol, Koons, Hirst and Lichtenstein amongst the artists featured.

The Broad, 221 S Grand Ave‎ Los Angeles, CA 90012, United States

9. Everything for free

Perhaps not everything is available for free in LA, but the trend for easing the charges for entry to elite strongholds of artistic dominance is growing in strength. The Broad, when it opens, will have free admission, which will create stern rivalry to MOCA, across the road, which currently charges visitors $12 for general entry. The Annenberg Space for Photography and the Getty Center are other free visits. The discussions around whether museums should charge for entry to the main collections are rife across the country, and many museums are following the example of London, where almost all art galleries are free for all.

10. James Turrell gives us Turrell vision

Los Angeles has no shortage of light, and has inspired more than one generation of artists whose work has been infused with colour, boldness, sprightliness, fluidity and carefree radiance. Turrell has fashioned these ideals into works of art, which redefine ‘light’ as an artwork in its own right. At his retrospective, running until 6 April this year, he tricks visitors into thinking that they are looking at a canvas, when, in fact, they are looking at a cleverly lit hole in the wall. There is also the chance to get an exclusive first glance at the behind-the-scenes progress of his current project, a naked-eye observatory situated in a crater owned by Turrell. Tickets for the exhibition are limited so that everyone can enjoy the first retrospective of this visionary artist in 30 years, the way that it should be: in the intimacy of one’s own naked eye, and bathed in light.

LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, United States

By Claire Baker