While LACMA's collections have long been the most impressive in the city, the 20-acre complex of buildings in which they've been housed has been quite the reverse. A bewildering jumble of architectural styles blighted further still by abysmally poor signage, they never really did the artworks justice.
At last, though, things have improved. Funding difficulties and public outrage forced the museum to abandon Rem Koolhaas's original plans to rebuild almost the entire complex from scratch in 2002. However, Renzo Piano's subsequent blueprint for a less dramatic and less expensive redevelopment of the museum did get the go-ahead. The aptly named Transformation is still a work in progress, but the museum is already a lot more visitor-friendly (attendance increased from 600,000 in 2005 to nearly 1,000,000 in 2011).
It all starts with the entrance: the BP Grand Entrance Pavilion gives the museum a proper focal point. The entrance includes the installation of Chris Burden's Urban Light, a piece made up of 202 cast-iron street lamps gathered from around LA, restored to working order.
The Broad Contemporary Art Museum (widely known as BCAM), funded by LA philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, is home to a dazzling selection of modern work. Spread over three floors, the selection of pieces on display is strong on American artists—there's a very impressive Richard Serra piece on the first floor; Cindy Sherman and Jenny Holzer are among the artists represented on the second floor; and the third floor, enlightened by a glass ceiling, holds classic pieces by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and local artist Ed Ruscha.
The Ahmanson Building has also been spruced up as part of the renovation work, and the collections reorganized. The modern collection on the ground floor holds works by the likes of Picasso, Mondrian, Klee and Kandinsky; upstairs, the Greek and Roman art collections are kept in a space that benefits from huge picture windows and, thus, lots of natural light. The American art collection lives on the second floor of the Art of the Americas building, where you'll also find the Latin American collection.
Despite all this activity, work is far from complete. In addition to the newest building, the 45,000-square-foot Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, which houses temporary exhibitions, phase two of the transformation calls for the renovation of LACMA West, housed in the old May Co department store building at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, but underused over the last few years.
Phase three provisionally called for the renovation of the galleries untouched by phases one and two, which at present contain European art (including Impressionist and post-Impressionist pieces by the likes of Cezanne, Gauguin and Degas), a world-renowned collection of Islamic art, plenty of pieces from Africa and, in the Pavilion for Japanese Art, all manner of delightful pieces from the Far East. The precise plans for phase three have yet to be finalized and may require the temporary closure of some galleries—call ahead if your interest is limited to a particular area.
The permanent collections are supplemented by some excellent temporary shows and a very strong program of events, among them film screenings and plenty of free music. Full details of all events, including the variety of daily tours, are available on the museum's website.
Mon-Tues, Thur 11am–5 pm; Fri 11 am–8 pm; Sat-Sun 10am–7 pm; Sun 10 am–7 pm; closed Wed