There are so many art museums in Los Angeles that it can be hard for art lovers to decide which ones should have priority when you're just in town for a short time. And after you've seen the big ones, there's the question of what to see next, and which ones are worth a detour.For more on other kinds of museums in LA, check out the Los Angeles Museums overview page.
Art museums 1 and 2 on my list are almost a tie if you take into account architecture and the view, but for the sheer volume and diversity of art that you can see at one location, Los Angeles County Museum of Art edged out the Getty Center in my view, especially with the addition of Broad Contemporary and the Resnick Pavilion. The encyclopedic collection ranges from pre-history to contemporary art.
2. Getty Center
The Getty Center, high on a hill in Brentwood, houses the J. Paul Getty Museum's fine art and photography collections, while the antiquities reside in Malibu at the Getty Villa. The Getty Center is as popular for it's unique architecture, beautiful gardens and stunning views as for the breadth of its art collection.
The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena is one of my favorite LA area art museums. It's a much more manageable size than LACMA or the Getty Center, and yet it contains some of the finest works of art in Southern California. All the impressionists are represented, with special focus on Picasso and Degas. The entire lower level is devoted to Southeast Asian art.
4. Getty Villa
The Getty Villa in Malibu contains the J. Paul Getty Museum's antiquities collection on an Italianate villa on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. While the Greek, Roman and Etruscan statuaries are impressive, it's worth a visit just to admire the Villa and the view.
The Museum of Contemporary Art and its partner, the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, a few blocks apart in Downtown LA, are hard to rank, because there aren't really any permanent exhibits. So where they should fall on a "best of" list depends on the current exhibition. I put them kind of in the middle due to their reputation in the art community, but I tend to be underwhelmed by their offerings. Check the exhibition schedule before planning a visit.More on the Museum of Contemporary Art from the Fine Art Guide on About.com.
Although better known to locals for their magnificent gardens, the Huntington Library's Art Collections are equally worthy of a visit. The collections are spread through multiple buildings on the extensive grounds, so bring your good walking shoes. highlights of the collection include American Art, Greene & Greene and other Arts & Crafts Movement furniture and 18th Century British art. The Library Collection contains a 1410 Elsmere manuscript of Chaucers The Canterbury Tales and an original 1455 Gutenberg Bible.
I have a hard time identifying the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana as an art museum, although they do exhibit art. Most of their exhibits are more of an ethnographic take on art. The permanent collection includes California Indian and other Native American art, pre-Columbian art, Asian and Pacific Islands art and art from Africa. They also host major traveling exhibits, such as the Terra Cotta Warriors.
Every major city has a Van Gogh and a Renoir, but only LA has the Museum of Neon Art. Located in Downtown Los Angeles on the route of the popular monthly Downtown Art Walk (2nd Thursdays), this one-room museum showcases historic neon signs and quirky neon art. They're planning a move to a larger location in Glendale. The Museum of Neon Art also hosts nighttime neon art tours of Los Angeles.
The Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City is a relatively small space, but using a variety of multimedia exhibit tools, you could spend many hours perusing photo exhibits. Although fine art photography is not the focus of the Annenberg Space, and you might equally well find stunning landscapes or grisly images of war and famine, the art of photography is definitely in evidence.
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