A casual walk around Los Angeles exposes one to so many murals that it’s almost easy to take them for granted. Public art can be found everywhere, from the individually designed L.A. metro stations to the utility boxes that dot the sidewalk. Here are 12 spectacular public artworks anyone can visit.
Located outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is Chris Burden’s iconic assemblage sculpture, Urban Light. You haven’t really visited Los Angeles until you’ve stopped by to take your picture among the 202 restored cast-iron streetlamps that make up the piece. Urban Light was installed in 2008 and has been featured in a number of movies and TV shows since, including American Horror Story: Hotel and No Strings Attached, as well as numerous advertising campaigns and photo shoots.
The Alley Project consists of over 100 murals by over 85 artists hidden among the alleys of Historic Filipinotown. Gabba Gallery owner Jason Ostro had the idea to fill the neighborhood with murals to combat the graffiti in 2014, and the area has since blossomed with colorful pieces in every style. Find the murals by heading to the Gabba Gallery on Beverly Boulevard, and then explore the small side streets around it. (A suggested route can be found here.) There is also an additional alley in Echo Park near the Bob Baker Marionette Theater.
This whimsical fountain sits in Town Plaza in downtown Culver City, just steps away from the Culver Hotel and the Arclight movie theater. Douglas Olmsted Freeman sculpted this commissioned piece in 2004, which features a kingly lion in a robe dancing among jets of water. During the day, it’s not uncommon to spot children playing in the jets to cool off from the summer heat. The inspiration for the lion came from Culver City’s history with both motion picture studio MGM and The Wizard of Oz. Much of the cast stayed in the Culver Hotel when filming the movie.
Simon Rodia, an artist and construction worker, constructed the Watts Towers over the course of 34 years. There are 17 towers in total, the tallest coming in at over 99 feet (30.2 meters). The towers themselves are made from steel rebar, concrete and wire mesh, and then embellished with pieces of glass, seashells, pottery, and tile. The towers were deeded to the state of California in the ‘70s and restored, and then turned over to the City of Los Angeles in the 1980s. The L.A. Cultural Affairs Department cares for this stunning piece of public art and testament to perseverance today.
Not far from Urban Light is another public piece on view at LACMA. Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass appears as a large boulder suspended over a pedestrian pathway, allowing guests to stand beneath it. It consists of 340 tons of diorite granite and concrete. It was transported from a quarry in Riverside to Los Angeles, passing through 22 cities. The video below depicts the difficult transport and the public spectacle it aroused one early morning in March 2012.
Randy Lawrence has been building Phantasma Gloria in the yard of his Echo Park home for over a decade. Lawrence suspended colored glass bottles full of water from wire to form a fantastical display—including an image of the Virgin de Guadalupe—that shimmers in the sunlight. It is truly a labor of love.
Miss Mao Trying to Poise Herself at the Top of Lenin’s Head
You might be surprised to see a large, stainless steel bust of Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin sitting serenely at the corner of La Brea and 4th as though it’s always been there. But this sculpture from Chinese artists The Gao Brothers has been around since 2011 when it appeared in a show at the nearby Ace Museum. Though known to most as Lenin’s Head, the sculpture is accurately conveyed by its formal name: it’s a tiny Mao Zedong attempting to balance atop Lenin’s bald head. It is one of several artworks that the brothers created depicting Mao in a diminutive or feminine way.
Blacklist, 1999. A Public Work by Jenny Holzer. Collection of the USC Fisher Museum of Art, University of Southern California This work is a gift of the First Amendment/Blacklist Project Committee. | Courtesy of Brigid McCaffrey
Artist Jenny Holzer’s Blacklist is a subtle, yet important piece. It consists of ten benches positioned in a circle. Each stone bench features an engraved quote from a member of the “Hollywood Ten.” The Hollywood Ten refers to 10 Hollywood filmmakers—including screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and director Edward Dmytryk—who were blacklisted after refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee and their investigation into allegations of Communist party members or sympathizers within the entertainment industry in 1947. Find it outside the USC Fisher Museum of Art.
Blacklist, 1999. A Public Work by Jenny Holzer. Collection of the USC Fisher Museum of Art, University of Southern California This work is a gift of the First Amendment/Blacklist Project Committee. | Courtesy of Brigid McCaffrey | Courtesy of Brigid McCaffrey
Over 30 chandeliers hang from a beloved tree in Silver Lake, illuminating the residential corner with a pleasant glow. Adam Tenenbaum and Brion Topolski created the tree, but the responsibility to pay the electric bill falls on Tenenbaum. He seeks donations via a parking meter, expertly painted by Paul Chatem, installed in front of the tree. Tenenbaum also rents out a detached studio on Airbnb for anyone who wants to crash in one of Los Angeles’ hippest neighborhoods in style.
This odd sculpture has been particularly polarizing. Artist Joseph Young presented Triforium to the city in 1975. It stands six stories high in the Los Angeles Mall Civic Center complex and weighs a staggering 60 tons. It also wasn’t cheap; it cost over $900,000 to build and install the commissioned piece. In its early days, the colored lights would flicker in time to music, making it what Young would boast as a unique “poly-phonoptic kinetic tower.” Yet for all its grand design, people hated it. The sculpture fell into disrepair and was deemed too costly to repair, and because of its size, it was too expensive to remove altogether. However, Young’s dream may be on the precipice of a comeback, as a group of residents dedicated to its restoration has received a $100,000 MyLA2050 grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation to bring it back to life.
The Great Wall of Los Angeles can be found at the Tujunga Wash, a flood control channel in North Hollywood. In the 1970s, Judith Baca, founder of Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), came up with the idea to paint a mural detailing California’s history as seen through the contributions and perspectives of local ethnic groups. Over the course of five years and with the help of numerous experts, artists and over 400 local youth and their families, the mural took shape. Even though it already spans about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers), it’s considered a work in progress.
Dustin Yellin’s Psychogeographies are glass plates pressed together, and inside, they hold a collage in the shape of a person. The collages are made from a variety of materials, including paper scraps and refuse, and are layered in a way that creates a 3D effect. You can find a series of panels on Sunset Boulevard in the courtyard of the Neuehouse building in Hollywood.