The East Coast-West Coast debate has had each side of the country puffing up its chest in defense of its superiority for ages. But the long-standing argument that the East Coast is the sole host to artistic culture, especially as it pertains to fine art, is becoming a bit more complicated. For years now, Los Angeles has been cultivating a fine art presence. In fact, it now has more museums than any other city in the country, an influx of galleries taking over retail leases, and thousands of artists moving west to fill them. And now, in 2018, the city is home to nearly 200 reputable galleries, and there’s no question that Los Angeles has established itself as the new mecca of fine art.
As a New Yorker who didn’t want to believe that L.A. could be capable of creating an artistic landscape comparable to that of my hometown, I set out looking for an art scene that I didn’t really think was there. Much to my surprise, it was—and then some. Because while geographically, Los Angeles is far too spread out to ever create a hub that will rival the Chelsea galleries (though, gallery row in Downtown is a close second), the city has managed to create a county-wide trail of galleries, museums, and public installations that are all worth seeing.
In the past, my trips to L.A. were punctuated by green juice tastings, celebrity sightings, and dusty hikes in the canyons. Outside of the museums, the L.A. art scene was tucked away, overshadowed by hints of Mr. Brainwash’s touch at nightclubs and the presence of stock photography of Marilyn Monroe in hotel lobbies. The focus of the city seemed to revel in the Golden Age of Hollywood, intercut with pop culture, and embody millennial health trends. It was confused, unfocused, and mostly unappealing to the artsy East Coasters. But after spending a week in the city unearthing a fine art scene, I’ve had to rewrite my perception of the city. Los Angeles is a far more artistically dynamic and progressive city than people on the East Coast give it credit for. This was made even more clear to me when I was warned by a few artists that comparing the Los Angeles fine art scene to that of New York could garner backlash. Alas, I believe it to be true.
L.A.’s thriving art scene spans from Venice to Downtown, with a notable presence in every neighborhood in between. Not sure where to begin your own Los Angeles art pilgrimage? Here’s your guide to the ultimate artsy L.A. trip.
See: Wilding Cran, a contemporary art gallery which most recently hosted a realism show titled “Really?” curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody. Night Gallery, an artist-run contemporary art gallery known for its experimental evolution. The Broad, a contemporary art museum that opened in 2015, offers free general admission and always features exciting exhibitions (pro tip: Get tickets to visit far in advance of your actual trip). Hauser & Wirth, originally founded in Switzerland, is a modern and contemporary art gallery that represents international artists. CB1, a community art gallery that represents emerging and mid-level contemporary artists. MOCA Grand Ave, also known as the Museum of Contemporary Art, is small enough to experience in about an hour and has two other locations in L.A. that are included in a same-day admission fee. Maccarone, a contemporary art gallery that has a separate outdoor structure for sculptures. Garis and Hahn, a contemporary art gallery originally founded in New York City, recently opened in downtown L.A. to showcase conceptual narratives.
Stay at Hotel Indigo. Only a five-minute cab ride from the heart of the arts district, this Downtown hotel will be very familiar territory for New Yorkers who already frequent the Mr. Purple rooftop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The newly opened Hotel Indigo has all the amenities you need and a very young, unstuffy crowd to hang with. You’re not going to spend a lot of time in your hotel room when you’re staying Downtown because there’s so much to do, but these clean, sleek rooms are more than accommodating for when you’re ready to tucker out at the end of the night.