The term ‘art is everywhere’ is probably overplayed in the age of Instagram, but when it comes to public art and accessibility there can be no denying the myriad options to explore in Los Angeles and Orange County.
These spaces can be an anchoring point for an afternoon of fun, or just a quick stop in to take a pic if you happen to be in the neighborhood. Best of all, access to these public art spaces is generally free, so it won’t put a dent in your wallet either!
Take a look at the rundown below, and maybe you’ll find a bit of artistic inspiration for your day out in SoCal.
Urban Lights & Levitated Mass
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus is home to two of the most popular public artworks in Los Angeles: Chris Burden’s Urban Light is a can’t miss as you drive by Wilshire Blvd. The installation consists of 202 un-uniform grey street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s. The work attracts tourists and locals every single day till the late hours of the night when the lamps are brightly lit. On the northside of the campus is Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer, a 340-ton chunk of granite and concrete positioned over a concrete trench the public can walk under. → More information
“Weather Field No. 1” by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle
Located in Santa Monica at Tongva Park this art installation is composed of 49 stainless steel 20-foot poles, each with its own weather vane and anemometer. → More information
As one of the largest public art installations in Los Angeles, the Motordome consists of four stories of neon and argon lights that flash in red and blue sequences illuminating the courtyard. Designed by Keith Sonnier, the piece is located in the outdoor lobby of the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles. → More information
“Generators of the Cylinder” by Michael Hayden
This vibrant neon light sculpture in front of the International Jewelry Center in Downtown Los Angeles uses holograms, a computer, and infrared sensors that detect body heat to generate ‘flashes and swirls’ of colors of people passing by. → More information
Joseph Young’s six-story, 60-ton public artwork stands in Fletcher-Bowron Square in Downtown Los Angeles. Designed in 1975 the “polyphonoptic” kinetic sculpture contains 1,494 multicolored glass cubes that illuminate in synchrony to music (at least that was the intent) from a 79-note glass bell carillon. Nowadays the Triforium only lights up for special event series (like Triforium Fridays in 2018) but it is nonetheless a pretty impressive sight to see. → More information
James Turrell Skyspace
Prolific light and space artist James Turrell has built several Skyspaces around the world and one is available for public viewing in Southern California at Pomona College Museum of Art. Designed to be enjoyed during sunset and sunrise, visitors sit beneath a canopy that frames a window to the sky with a pool of water at the center of the ground reflecting an image of the sky. As the lighting program begins, changing colors, from gold to lavender and even black immerse the space and the audience inside it. → More information
It took 33 years for Simon Rodia to complete the 17 interconnected structures that comprise the Watts Towers. Each tower was built using everyday objects and recycled materials, with Rodia laboring by hand and with only simple tools to bring his creation to life. The public can easily view the Watts Towers on the sidewalk on 107th St., but you should be advised that the structure itself is currently scaffolded and under conservation as part of a multi-year renovation, which is scheduled for completion by spring of 2020. In the mean time complimentary docent-led tours are still taking place on the outside of the fenced towers if you want to learn more about the history of Rodia’s work. -> More information
Forest Lawn Glendale
What if we told you the only place in the world you can see all of Michelangelo’s greatest statuary works in one location (or at least replicas thereof) is in Los Angeles? What if we told you these works were all contained at a cemetery? Welcome to Forest Lawn Glendale.
The grounds at Forest Lawn Glendale feature an extensive collection of full-scale marble replicas of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, including the Statue of David. Plus you’ll find other classical reproductions including the Last Supper Window, a stained glass re-creation of Leonardo da Vinci’s, masterpiece. Additionally, visitors can check out a range of reproductions and works inspired by American History, including a 600 square-foot mosaic reproduction of John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence.
As of publication of this post the exhibits on display at the Forest Lawn Museum are currently closed for renovations, and set to re-open on Oct. 10. In the mean time, all of the exterior sculptures and works, as well as the mausoleums, are open regular hours and free to the public.
NOTE: If you’re going to try to see all of the works at Forest Lawn Glendale then a car would be highly recommended. Driving to each of the mausoleums and art locations within the property will save you both in time and sweat. -> More information
The Great Wall of L.A.
The Great Wall of L.A. is a series of murals spanning half a mile that that depict the history of California’s ethnic peoples, dating from pre-historic times to the middle of the twentieth century. The murals are located within the San Fernando Valley Flood Control Channel, which means a fence divides visitors and their view of the art. If you want to see the works in chronological order start on the corner of Burbank Blvd and Coldwater Canyon then work your way north on the green belt towards Oxnard St. -> More information
Cerritos Sculpture Garden
This relatively small but inviting space features seven permanent works including an Infinity Sculpture by artist Cliff Gaten and a bronze replica of the “Statue of Freedom” that sits atop the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. You probably couldn’t spend more than 30-45 minutes at the Cerritos Sculpture Garden, but it’s great for a quick stop in and a few photo snaps. Plus it’s free and open year-around! -> More information
Tucked between two office buildings in Costa Mesa is a delightful sculptural garden that portrays six different geographical regions in California. Isamu Noguchi’s ‘California Scenario‘was built on land that was once a lima bean farm owned by the Segerstrom family. The centerpiece of the garden is ‘The Spirit of the Lima Bean,’ a sculpture of rust-colored granite rocks. The sculpture represents Henry Segerstrom’s friendship with Noguchi and the Segerstrom family’s contribution to the agricultural history of southern California. -> More information
The Murals of Downtown Santa Ana
Murals have long been an expression of the community in Santa Ana. Unfortunately some have since been white washed. But recently there’s been a revitalization of the movement with vibrant large scale murals splashed across multiple buildings and establishments. The art work comment on the past and present of the neighborhood and makes for an interesting way to see a bit of history through local eyes. → More information
No, Laguna Beach isn’t a public work of art in itself, but it is one of the central artistic hubs of Orange County, having maintained its creative vibe from roots as an artist colony in the early twentieth century. As such, the city boasts numerous public works of art and community spaces, along with a bounty of art galleries to explore along Pacific Coast Highway.
Heisler Park is a great place to begin. Start on the northern edge of the park then wind your way southeast past numerous public sculptures, a small amphitheater, and a coastal gazebo. Take a detour down an access stairwell to Rockpile Beach, or continue southeast and wrap around Cliff Dr. to connect back to the Coast Highway.
If you walk south down PCH about 5-10 minutes you’ll find Main Beach. Just beyond that you’ll encounter the artist Wyland’s original Whaling Wall Mural (recently repainted in 2019), a 4,000-square-foot underwater scene featuring life-sized sea life. The wall is adjacent to the Wyland Gallery, and faces north through parking lot to the Hotel Laguna.
Finally, continue just a few steps south from the Wyland Gallery you can catch a quiet breath at the intimate Brown’s Park where Jason Kopydlowski’s ‘Tranquil Moment’ (a bronze sculpture embedded with a meditative poem) turns your attention to the Pacific Ocean just beyond.
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