Few cities in the world contain the diversity and depth of public art works that one can find in Los Angeles. From murals and paintings to sculptures, graffiti, stickers and hand-made structures, L.A. has a unique blend of public art culture that is sure to pique the imagination. That is, if you know where to look.
To that end, below I’d like to introduce some of the funkiest free standing public art pieces displayed in our city that I feel deserve a visit and perhaps even a moment of pondering in appreciation. By freestanding art pieces I mean those unique artistic items you might see on walls, in the Metro station, outside of the local art museums or even parking lots in downtown. It’s a wide-ranging list, but one that’s sure to have something for everyone.
Enjoy the rundown, and hopefully what you see below might spark your interest to further explore the incredible variety of art available to the public in the city of angels.
Considered one of SoCal’s most culturally significant public art works, Simon Rodia created this sculpture installation by hand over a period of 33 years. Located in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles this installation consists of 17 interconnected sculptural structures, with some towers reaching over 99 feet high. Constructed from a combination of steel, concrete and wired, the towers are decorated with a variety of recycled materials including old glass soda bottles, tiles, porcelain, mirrors, sea shells and much more. The mosaic sky-high towers are spectacular and best seen in person.
This large scale sculpture installation by Chris Burden located at the main entrance of LACMA at Wilshire Boulevard, consists of 202 restored California street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s. The installation has a varying amount of lamp sizes and styles that are uniformed in a grey color. The publicly open piece attracts tourists and locals alike through the day and till the late hours of the night when the lamps are lit.
The Great Wall of L.A.
Want to know about L.A. history in a creative way? Rhis half mile long mural in Valley Glen located at the eastern edge of the Valley College campus tells the story of California from earliest beginnings, straight through colonialism and the many historical movements that have lead to modern day with special sections dedicated to minorities and civil rights.
TIP: Check out the mural from the beginning at the corner of Burbank Blvd and Coldwater Canyon Ave, then walk along the path till the end to truly appreciate each section of the mural and take in all of the history.
Located on Main Street in Venice, this distinct commercial office building was originally designed to be the West Coast corporate office of the advertising firm Chiat/Day but currently it houses Google. The building consists of 3 different styles, with the two outer parts designed by Frank Gehry and the centered binoculars piece designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. The binoculars serve as an entrance for cars to the parking garage and pedestrians into the modern architectural building.
Levitated Mass by the artist Michael Heizer
Located in LACMA’s backyard, this ginormous 340 ton chunk of a granite lies over a concrete trench that you can walk through to get a closer view of or stand under the oversized rock. The artist originally thought of the art piece in 1969 but only recently did he find the right boulder he originally envisioned for this art installation. The boulder was found in Riverside and transported to LACMA by 2012 and has since become a “rock star” in the art world. It’s free to check during LACMA’s operating hours and is a great piece for “forced perspective” shots.
Chas Stainless Steel
Sitting in the outside courtyard of MOCA lays Nancy Rubin’s airplane like sculpture made of over 1000 pounds of stainless steel from recycled airplane parts. This sculpture in particular picks at your mind and lets your imagination soar at the unison of the material used to make the piece come together. Check it out next time you’re in downtown, the sculpture is installed for public viewing in the Sculpture Plaza at MOCA at The California Plaza.
The mysterious British street artist the world knows as Banksy has one in-tact and unharmed piece left in all of Los Angeles. Located in a parking lot near the intersection of 9th and Broadway in Downtown, the mural depicts a girl on a swing hanging from the word “park” with the faded letters “ing” beside it to spell out “Parking.” It’s rumored this piece was created because a group of local residents in the area were trying to raise funds to turn the parking lot into a public park/playground. Some rumors state that it isn’t a Banksy piece, but you can check it out for yourself and be the judge.
Cradle by Ball-Nogues Studio
This sculpture is located on the exterior wall of Parking Structure 7 in Santa Monica just off of 4th Street near the Third Street Promenade. The sculpture consists of 335-mirrored polished spheres that extend 39 feet wide and about 36 feet above ground. The sculpture is supposed to mimic a large-scale version of the desk version of Newton’s Cradle, hence the name of the sculpture.
Jenny Holzer -Located on the USC campus this art piece is composed of 10 benches with quotes from the “Hollywood Ten: and other creative types who were blacklisted because of their political beliefs in the 1940s and 50s. The art piece that serves as a reminder to this generation (and the future) that once ago, the government infringed on professional creativity and personal civil liberties.’
Mosaic Tile House
This was a normal house on a normal street in Venice until Cheri and Gonzalo moved in and wanted to doll up the house a bit. What started out as a simple art project soon took over their house and is now a large-scale living art piece that’s still in progress Every inch (literally inside and outside) of the house is decked out in a rainbow variety of handmade mosaic tiles made by the artistic couple in their art studios based in the back of their house. The tours are on a small scale and allow the couple to be more personal and intimate about showing their home by sharing stories and memories. Take a tour to ogle at this amazing house, which is well worth a visit, and be amazed by the work and dedication Cheri and Gonzalo put into their house.
Tip: Bring a camera and make a reservation to visit the house via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to guarantee you get a tour; it’s well worth it!
The Motordome is a public art instillation designed by Keith Sonnier and consists of four stories of neon and argon lights that flash in red and blue. It is located in the outdoor lobby of the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters in downtown and is labeled as the Largest Public Art Installation in Los Angeles.
A cultural public and somewhat art piece in Silver Lake, the Chandelier Tree is definitely a must see gem because of the simplicity and uniqueness of the design. If you come by to check the tree out when it’s lit up at night you won’t regret it
This 42 ½ ton sculpture placed on UCLA campus, at Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center, by New York based artist Richard Serra, is apart of his “Torqued Ellipse” series, which are pieces known to play with space and walk through environments with conjoined curves. TEUCLA is a two part weatherproof steel sculpture that is the first public work by Richard Serra in SoCal.
Fork In The Road
In Pasadena where Pasadena Avenue and splits, there is a literal fork in the road. this sculpture was originally a joke between the artist Ken Marshall and his friend Altadena business owner Bob Stane. Marshall made the 18th foot tall wooden fork as a gift for Stane’s 75h birthday.
By Justin Stadel, these life-size cowboy cutouts out of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Gene Autry along the 2 freeway in Glendale. The artist behind the cutouts is Justin Stadel, aimed to create a spiritual connection and sense of freedom for viewers of the art pieces.
You don’t have to take a trip to a museum to appreciate art in L.A. Art is something that is apart of the culture, it surrounds us and makes up the rhythm and color to the city, giving it a story or even recording history. Check out the funky art installations mentioned here or comment below if we missed your favorite ones.
What are your favorite public art pieces in Los Angeles? Let us know in the comments below!