Los Angeles is indeed a museums capital. As I shared in a previous article, there are hundreds of museums and art galleries in L.A. County. Over the past few weekends, I visited a few more of the fine cultural institutions this city has to offer, including: The Annenberg Space for Photography, Japanese American National Museum, Chinese American Museum, and Fire House No. 1/The Plaza Firehouse. These may not be well-known destinations, but they are all interesting and exemplify the diverse cultural offerings available in Los Angeles.
The Annenberg Space for Photography is a unique cultural destination that exhibits both digital and print photography in an intimate environment. This hidden gem in Century City features state-of-the-art, high-definition digital technology as well as traditional prints by some of the world’s most renowned photographers. Currently on display is No Strangers: Ancient Wisdom in a Modern World, a show about the wonder of culture and the plight of indigenous people throughout the world. The exhibit includes an original short documentary which was filmed in many locations (from Washington, D.C. to British Columbia, Canada to London to Mongolia), and features additional photographs, interviews and behind the scenes footage with exhibit photographers, indigenous people and experts. The film examines indigenous cultures through the lens of photography and encourages viewers to consider ancient traditions in new ways. This exhibit was very eye-opening and thought-provoking for me. Specifically, the video and some of the photographs challenged my own views about progress and urbanization as I saw how the lifestyle and traditions of indigenous people are being threatened and even eliminated by deforestation, mining, and other activities. No Strangers is on display until February 24, 2013.
Located in Little Tokyo, the Japanese American National Museum is the first museum in the United States dedicated to sharing the experience of Americans of Japanese ancestry as an integral part of U.S. history. The museum houses a comprehensive collection of Japanese American images, documents and objects, and offers multi-faceted exhibitions, educational programs, documentaries and publications. An ongoing exhibit is Common Ground: The Heart of Community which chronicles over 100 years of Japanese American history, beginning with the early days of the Issei pioneers through the World War II internment to the present. Among the notable objects on display are a scale model of an internment camp and an original structure saved and preserved from Heart Mountain barracks, the concentration camp in Wyoming. As a big kid at heart, I also enjoyed Giant Robot Biennale 3 which featured colorful robots and whimsical wall paintings. It was a fun exhibit that brought back fond memories of my childhood watching Japanese animations and playing with different toy figurines.
The Chinese American Museum (CAM) is the first museum in Southern California dedicated to the Chinese American experience and history in this region. CAM is symbolically housed in the Garnier Building (1890), the oldest and last surviving structure of Los Angeles’ original Chinatown. The 7,200 square foot museum is currently hosting Origins: The Birth and Rise of Chinese American Communities in Los Angeles, a permanent exhibition that celebrates the growth and development of Chinese American enclaves from Downtown Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley. As a Chinese American, I found the exhibit very fascinating and learned a great deal. One of the items on display is a map which shows how the location of Chinatown shifted in the past; for example, the community was displaced by the construction of Union Station in the 1930s. Also interesting is the section which covers Monterey Park, the first planned Chinese American suburb. The movement or expansion of Chinese Americans away from Chinatown and to the San Gabriel Valley was reflected in the political landscape, as explained in biographical displays of prominent figures such as Judy Chu, the first Chinese American woman elected to the U.S. Congress.
Just around the corner from CAM is Fire House No. 1 or The Plaza Firehouse. Built in 1884, The Plaza Firehouse was the first building in Los Angeles designed to house fire fighting crews and their equipment. The first occupants of the Firehouse were called the Volunteer 38s which is the number of men in Engine Company No 1. The Plaza Firehouse has been restored and converted into a museum which showcases firefighting equipment of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Firehouse also displays an amazingly detailed 1909 map of Downtown Los Angeles which I, as a planner and map enthusiast, could have stared at and studied for hours.
As a follow up to my previous article, I also checked out the entries to the Canstruction LA design competition held earlier this year. California icons, such as the California’s State Flag, the LAX Theme Building, and the Port of Los Angeles, were among the winning designs. Featured as part of this year’s Downtown Art Walk in the historic Farmers and Merchants Bank Building, unique structures made of cans of food were created by some of Los Angeles’ most prominent architecture, engineering, and construction firms. The two-day event contributed over 21,000 pounds of food to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
While visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) over the weekend, I also saw the progress being made in the construction of The Broad Museum. Scheduled to open in early 2014, the museum will house philanthropist Eli Broad’s 2,000-work collection of contemporary art by the likes of Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, and Cindy Sherman. The 120,000-square-foot, three-level museum is being designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro based in New York. The museum’s design trademark is an outer shell that looks like a honeycomb and is made up of porous panels which will be installed in the coming months. The Broad will be an exciting addition to Downtown Los Angeles and will help to enhance the city’s standing as a museums capital.
Not only does Los Angeles have many museums, it also offers a great variety of cultural institutions. I have just highlighted a few above and I know there are more that I need to explore. For my fellow fans of Los Angeles and museums, I highly recommend getting a copy of Museum Companion to Los Angeles. This book features a description of nearly 300 museums and their collections, with interesting historical and architectural details, as well as each collection’s highlights. Finally, I again encourage all Angelenos and visitors alike to take advantage of the city’s unique and diverse cultural offerings by exploring the museums in the area. After all, where else can one learn all about indigenous people and cultures around the world, internment camps, robots, Chinatown, classic firefighting apparatus, and Canstruction structures in a couple of weekends?
Museum Companion to Los Angeles book cover from amazon.com
All other photos taken by author