The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is an art museum located on Wilshire Boulevard in the Miracle Mile vicinity of Los Angeles. LACMA is on Museum Row, adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits (George C. Page Museum). Committed to showcasing a multitude of art histories, LACMA exhibits and interprets works of art from new and unexpected points of view that are informed by the region’s rich cultural heritage and diverse population.
LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of more than 147,000 objects that illuminate 6,000 years of artistic expression across the globe. It attracts nearly a million visitors annually. It is extremely famous and is widely known across the country. It’s collection holds works spanning the history of art from ancient times to the present. In addition to art exhibits, the museum features film and concert series.
LACMA’s mission is to serve the public through the collection, conservation, exhibition, and interpretation of significant works of art from a broad range of cultures and historical periods, and through the translation of these collections into meaningful educational, aesthetic, intellectual, and cultural experiences for the widest array of audiences. LACMA’s spirit of experimentation is reflected in its work with artists, technologists, and thought leaders as well as in its regional, national, and global partnerships to share collections and programs, create pioneering initiatives, and engage new audiences.
LACMA was founded in 1961, splitting from the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. Four years later, it moved to the Wilshire Boulevard complex designed by William Pereira. The museum’s wealth and collections grew in the 1980s, and it added several buildings beginning in that decade and continuing in subsequent decades.
Since 2007, the museum has doubled its exhibition program, audience, and its campus, and has operated a satellite gallery at Charles White Elementary School in MacArthur Park, where LACMA presents museum-caliber exhibitions and programs in partnership with the school and surrounding communities.
In recent years, LACMA has committed to expanding, upgrading, and unifying the museum’s 20-acre campus through the addition of new buildings, including the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) (2008) and the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion (2010), as well as monumental public artworks and open-air gathering places for the community. Now, LACMA is focusing on replacing four aging buildings on the east campus with a new home for the permanent collection.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art was established as a museum in 1961. In 1965 the museum moved to a new Wilshire Boulevard complex as an independent, art-focused institution, the largest new museum to be built in the United States after the National Gallery of Art.
The museum’s wealth and collections grew in the 1980s, and it added several buildings beginning in that decade and continuing in subsequent decades. With the opening of BCAM (2008) and the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion (2010), both designed by Renzo Piano, LACMA added 100,000 square feet of gallery space to the campus, more than doubling the museum’s exhibition space.
Having first completed the expansion of the museum, LACMA is now focusing on replacing the four aging buildings on the east campus (the Ahmanson, Art of the Americas, and Hammer Buildings, as well as the Leo S. Bing Center) with a new home for the permanent collection that will breathe new life into 6,000 years of art. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor, this new building, named the David Geffen Galleries, is the long-anticipated culmination of over a decade of transformation.
The horizontal design of the David Geffen Galleries will place art from all areas of LACMA’s encyclopedic collection on the same level, so that no single culture, tradition, or era is given more stature than any other. This new building will enable a rotating series of exhibitions rather than a fixed presentation of the collection, offering visitors a multitude of avenues to explore our common humanity.
LACMA’s new building will complete a revitalized corridor of cultural institutions along Wilshire Boulevard that make up L.A.’s museum mile, including the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
William Pereira Buildings
The museum, built in a style similar to Lincoln Center and the Los Angeles Music Center, consisted of three buildings: the Ahmanson Building, the Bing Center, and the Lytton Gallery (renamed the Frances and Armand Hammer Building in 1968). The board selected LA architect William Pereira over the directors’ recommendation of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the buildings. According to a 1965 Los Angeles Times story, the total cost of the three buildings was $11.5 million. Construction began in 1963, and was undertaken by the Del E. Webb Corporation. Construction was completed in early 1965. At the time, the Los Angeles Music Center and LACMA were concurrent large civic projects which vied for attention and donors in Los Angeles. When the museum opened, the buildings were surrounded by reflecting pools, but they were filled in and covered over when tar from the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits began seeping in.
Money poured into LACMA during the boom years of the 1980s, the museum hired the architectural firm of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates to design its $35.3-million, 115,000-square-foot Robert O. Anderson Building for 20th-century art, which opened in 1986 (renamed the Art of the Americas Building in 2007). In the far-reaching expansion, museum-goers henceforth entered through the new partially roofed central court, nearly an acre of space bounded by the museum’s four buildings. The museum’s Pavilion for Japanese Art, designed by maverick architect Bruce Goff, opened in 1988, as did the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden of Rodin bronzes.
In 1999, the Hancock Park Improvement Project was complete, and the LACMA-adjacent park (designed by landscape architect Laurie Olin) was inaugurated with a free public celebration. The $10-million renovation replaced dead trees and bare earth with picnic facilities, walkways, viewing sites for the La Brea tar pits and a 150-seat red granite amphitheater designed by artist Jackie Ferrara.
Also in 1994, LACMA purchased the adjacent former May Company department store building, an impressive example of streamline moderne architecture designed by Albert C. Martin Sr. LACMA West increased the museum’s size by 30 percent when the building opened in 1998.
Renzo Piano Buildings
In 2004 LACMA’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a plan for LACMA’s transformation by architect Rem Koolhaas, who had proposed razing all the current buildings and constructing an entirely new single, tent-topped structure. In 2004 LACMA’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved plans to transform the museum, led by architect Renzo Piano. The planned transformation consisted of three phases.
Phase I started in 2004 and was completed in February 2008. The renovations required demolishing the parking structure on Ogden Avenue and with it LACMA-commissioned graffiti art by street artists Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee. The entry pavilion is a key point in architect Renzo Piano’s plan to unify LACMA’s sprawling, often confusing layout of buildings. The BP Grand Entrance and the adjacent Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) comprise the $191 million first phase of the three-part expansion and renovation campaign. BCAM adding 58,000 square feet (5,400 m2) of exhibition space to the museum. In 2010 the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion opened to the public, providing the largest purpose-built, naturally lit, open-plan museum space in the world.
The second phase was intended to turn the May building into new offices and galleries, designed by SPF Architects. As proposed, it would have had flexible gallery space, education space, administrative offices, a new restaurant, a gift shop and a bookstore, as well as study centers for the museum’s departments of costume and textiles, photography and prints and drawings, and a roof sculpture garden with two works by James Turrell. However, construction of this phase was halted in November 2010. Phase two and three were never completed.
In October 2011, LACMA entered into an agreement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences under which the Academy will establish its Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, in the May building. The redesign and additions are designed by Renzo Piano as well. Construction of the renovated building is ongoing and the Academy Museum is set to open by 2021.
LACMA’s more than 120,000 objects are divided among its numerous departments by region, media, and time period and are spread amongst the various museum buildings.
Modern and Contemporary Art
The Modern Art collection is displayed in the Ahmanson Building, which was renovated in 2008 to have a new entrance featuring a large staircase, conceived as a gathering place similar to Rome’s Spanish Steps. Filling the atrium at the base of the staircase is Tony Smith’s massive sculpture Smoke (1967). The plaza level galleries also house African art and a gallery highlighting the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies.
The modern collection on the plaza level displays works from 1900 to the 1970s, largely populated by the Janice and Henri Lazarof Collection. In December 2007, Janice and Henri Lazarof gave LACMA 130 mostly modernist works estimated to be worth more than $100 million. The collection includes 20 works by Picasso, watercolors and paintings by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and a considerable number of sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, Constantin Brâncuși, Henry Moore, Willem de Kooning, Joan Miró, Louise Nevelson, Archipenko, and Arp.
The Contemporary Art collection is displayed in the 60,000-square-foot (5,600 m2) Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), opened on February 16, 2008. BCAM’s inaugural exhibition featured 176 works by 28 artists of postwar Modern art from the late 1950s to the present. All but 30 of the works initially displayed came from the collection of Eli and Edythe Broad (pronounced “brode”). Long-time trustee Robert Halff had already donated 53 works of contemporary art in 1994. Components of that gift included Joan Miró, Jasper Johns, Sam Francis, Frank Stella, Lari Pittman, Chris Burden, Richard Serra, John Chamberlain, Matthew Barney, and Jeff Koons. It also provided LACMA with its first drawings by Claes Oldenburg and Cy Twombly.
American and Latin American art
The Art of the Americas Building has American, Latin American, and pre-Columbian collections displayed on the second floor and temporary exhibition space on the first floor. Formerly known as the Anderson Building, the Art of the Americas Building comprises galleries for art from North, Central, and South America.
LACMA’s Latin American Art galleries reopened in July 2008 after several years renovation. The Latin American collection includes pre-Columbian, Spanish Colonial, Modern, and contemporary works. Many recent additions to the collection were financed by sales of works from an 1,800 piece holding of 20th century Mexican art compiled by dealer-collectors Bernard and Edith Lewin and given to the museum in 1997.
The pre-Columbian galleries were redesigned by Jorge Pardo, a Los Angeles artist who works in sculpture, design, and architecture. Pardo’s display cases are built from thick, stacked sheets of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), with spacing of equal thickness in between the 70-plus layers. The laser-cut organic forms undulate and swell out from the walls, sharply contrasting to the rectangular display cases found in most art museums.
The museum’s pre-Columbian collection began in the 1980s with the first installment of a 570-piece gift from Southern California collector Constance McCormick Fearing and the purchase of about 200 pieces from L.A. businessman Proctor Stafford. The holdings recently jumped from about 1,800 to 2,500 objects with a gift of Colombian ceramics from Camilla Chandler Frost, a LACMA trustee and the sister of Otis Chandler, former Los Angeles Times publisher, and Stephen and Claudia Muñoz-Kramer of Atlanta, whose family built the collection.
A sizable portion of LACMA’s pre-Columbian collection was excavated from burial chambers in Colima, Nayarit and other regions around Jalisco in modern-day Mexico. LACMA boasts one of the largest collections of Latin American art due to the generous donation of more than 2,000 works of art by Bernard Lewin and his wife Edith Lewin in 1996. In 2007 the museum signed an agreement with the Fundación Cisneros for a loan of 25 colonial-style works, later extended until 2017.
The Spanish Colonial collection includes work from 17th and 18th century Mexican artists Miguel Cabrera, José de Ibarra, José de Páez, and Nicolás Rodriguez Juárez. The collection has galleries for Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. The Latin American contemporary gallery highlights works Francis Alÿs.
The Hammer Building houses the Chinese and Korean collections. The Korean art collection began with the donation of a group of Korean ceramics in 1966 by Bak Jeonghui, then president of the Republic of Korea, after a visit to the museum. LACMA today claims to have the most comprehensive holding art collection outside of Korea and Japan. The Pavilion for Japanese Art displays the Shin’enkan collection donated by Joe D. Price. In 1999 LACMA trustee Eric Lidow and his wife, Leza, donated 75 ancient Chinese works valued at a total of $3.5 million, including important bronze objects and prime examples of Buddhist sculpture. LACMA also has a rich collection of relics from India, mostly consisting of sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras, Buddha and Hindu deities. Many Paintings from India are also present in the LACMA.
Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art
The second floor of the Ahmanson Building has Greek and Roman Art galleries. A large portion of the museum’s ancient Greek and Roman art collection was donated by William Randolph Hearst, the publishing magnate, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
The museum’s Islamic galleries include over 1700 works from ceramics and inlaid metalwork to enameled glass, carved stone and wood, and arts of the book from manuscript illumination to Islamic calligraphy. The collection is especially strong in Persian and Turkish glazed pottery and tiles, glass, and arts of the book. The collection began in earnest in 1973 when the Nasli M. Heeramaneck Collection was gifted to the museum by philanthropist Joan Palevsky.
Decorative arts and design
In 1990 Max Palevsky gave 32 pieces of Arts and Crafts furniture to LACMA; three years later, he added an additional 42 pieces to his gift. In 2000, he donated $2 million to LACMA for Arts and Crafts works. He supplied about a third of the 300 objects displayed in a 2004–05 LACMA exhibit, “The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America: 1880–1920” and in 2009, the museum presented “The Arts and Crafts Movement: Masterworks From the Max Palevsky and Jodie Evans Collection”. With a single acquisition in 2009, LACMA became a major center for the study and display of 18th- and 19th-century European clothing when it bought the holdings of dealers Martin Kamer of London and Wolfgang Ruf of Beckenried, Switzerland—about 250 outfits and 300 accessories created between 1700 and 1915, including men’s three-piece suits, women’s dresses, children’s garb, and a vast array of shoes, hats, purses, shawls, fans, and undergarments.
Permanent art installations
Los Angeles sculptor Robert Graham created the towering, bronze Retrospective Column (1981, cast in 1986) for the entrance of the Art of the Americas Building. A new contemporary sculpture garden was opened directly east of the museum’s Wilshire Boulevard entrance in 1991, including large-scale outdoor sculptures by Alice Aycock, Ellsworth Kelly, Henry Moore, and others. The centerpiece of the garden is Alexander Calder’s three-piece mobile Hello Girls, commissioned by a women’s museum-support group for the museum’s opening in 1965. Situated in a curving reflecting pool, the mobile has brightly colored paddles that are moved by jets of water.
The Ahmanson Building’s atrium was remodeled to hold Tony Smith’s Smoke, which had not been displayed since its original 1967 presentation at Washington, D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art. The massive black painted aluminum artwork is made up of 43 piers and is 45 ft (14 m) long, 33 ft (10 m) wide, and 22 ft (6.7 m) high.
Eli and Edythe Broad contributed $10 million to fund the purchase of Richard Serra’s Band sculpture, on display on the first floor of BCAM when the building opened.
Surrounding the BCAM building and LACMA’s courtyard is a 100 palm tree garden, designed by artist Robert Irwin and landscape architect Paul Comstock. Some of the 30 varieties of palms are in the ground, but most are in large wooden boxes above ground. Directly in front of the new entrance to LACMA on Wilshire Boulevard, where Ogden Drive once bisected the 20-acre campus between Wilshire Boulevard and 6th Street, is Chris Burden’s Urban Light (2008), an orderly, multi-tiered installation of 202 antique cast-iron street lights from various cities in and around the Los Angeles area. The street lights are functional, turn on in the evening, and are powered by solar panels on the roof of the BP Grand Entrance.
Levitated Mass by artist Michael Heizer is the latest project at LACMA. On December 8, 2011, this 340-ton boulder, 21.5 feet (6.6 m) wide and 21.5 feet (6.6 m) in height, was ready to leave its quarry in Riverside County, after months of postponements. It sits atop the 456-foot-long trench which allows people to walk under and around the massive rock.
The Wallis Annenberg Photography Department was launched in 1984 with a grant from the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation. It has holdings of more than fifteen thousand works that span the period from the medium’s invention in 1839 to the present. Photography also is integrated into other departments. Although LACMA’s photo collection encompasses the entire field, it has many gaps and is far smaller than that of the J. Paul Getty Museum.
In 1992 Audrey and Sydney Irmas donated their entire photography collection, creating what is now the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection of Artists’ Self-Portraits, a large and highly specialized selection spanning 150 years. The couple donated the collection two years before a major exhibition of the collection was mounted at LACMA; the display included photos of and by artistic photographers ranging from chemist Alphonse Poitevin in 1853 to Robert Mapplethorpe in 1988. Among other self-portraits in the collection were those of Andy Warhol, Lee Friedlander, and Edward Steichen. Audrey Irmas continues to buy for the collection, but now all the additions are gifts to LACMA.
In 2008 LACMA announced that the Annenberg Foundation was making a $23 million gift for the acquisition of the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon collection of 19th- and 20th-century photographs. Among the 3,500 master prints are works by Steichen, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Eugène Atget, Imogen Cunningham, Catherine Opie, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Ave Pildas and Man Ray. In 2011 LACMA and the J. Paul Getty Trust jointly acquired Robert Mapplethorpe’s art and archival material, including more than 2,000 works by the artist.
LACMA’s film program was founded by Phil Chamberlin in the late 1960s. In 2011 LACMA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced partnership plans to open a movie museum within three years in the former May Co. building.
In 1971, curator Maurice Tuchman’s revolutionary “Art and Technology” exhibit opened at LACMA after its debut at the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka, Japan. The museum staged its first exhibition by contemporary black artists later that year, featuring Charles Wilbert White, Timothy Washington and David Hammons, then little known.
The museum’s best-attended show ever was “Treasures of Tutankhamun”, which drew 1.2 million during four months in 1978. The 2005 “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” drew 937,613 during its 137-day run. A show of Vincent van Gogh masterpieces from the artist’s eponymous Amsterdam museum is the third most successful show, and a 1984 exhibition of French Impressionist works is fourth. In 1994, “Picasso and the Weeping Women: The Years of Marie-Therese Walter and Dora Maar” opened to rave reviews and large crowds, drawing more than 153,000 visitors.
Since the arrival of current director Michael Govan, about 80% of just over 100 featured temporary exhibitions have been of Modern or contemporary art while the permanent exhibitions feature work dating from antiquity, including pre-Columbian, Assyrian and Egyptian art through contemporary art.
More recent exhibits, focusing on popular culture and entertainment, have also been well-received, both by critics and patrons. Exhibits devoted to the works of movie-directors Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick drew especially positive reactions and responses.
In 1966 Maurice Tuchman, then curator of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, introduced the Art and Technology (A&T) program. Within the program, artists like Robert Irwin and James Turrell were placed, for example, at the Garrett Corporation, to conduct research into perception. The program yielded an exhibition that ran at LACMA and traveled to Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. It also contributed to the development of the Light and Space movement.
Established in 1967, the Conservation Center at LACMA supports the museum’s commitment to collect, preserve, study, and share its collections. It was the first West Coast facility to combine conservation, scientific research, and imaging in a comprehensive program for the analysis, authentication, and characterization of artists’ materials and methods of fabrication. A staff of 30 assess condition and treat artworks, monitor the museum environment, and establish procedures for safe display, storage, and transport of the collection.
LACMA produces a range of exhibition and collection catalogues in both print and online formats.
LACMA maintains extensive research collections that support the museum’s diverse exhibitions, art collections, and programming.
As part of LACMA’s mission to offer meaningful experiences through art from many cultures and time periods, we have joined forces with peer institutions throughout the world for an evolving and collaborative approach for museums in the 21st century. Through these partnerships, LACMA can share exhibitions, collections, programs, and more with local, regional, and global audiences.
In 2020, LACMA and Snap Inc. broadened their partnership with a new initiative, LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives. A continuation of the institutions’ commitment to innovation, this initiative pairs artists with Snap Lens Creators to create site-specific AR monuments and murals throughout Los Angeles. LACMA and Snap have long collaborated on projects at the intersection of art and new technology, including LACMA’s Art + Technology Lab (2018–present) and the exhibition Christian Marclay: Sound Stories (2019).