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Inside LA: an art lover’s guide

Posted by Anthony Leyton on March 31st, 2010

Nicole Campoy-Leffler is a born-and-bred Angeleno, a one-time student of ballet and opera, a connoisseur of underground arts movements, and a writer for Fine Arts LA – there can be few people more qualified to serve up an insider slice of LA’s cultural scene. The Smith Travel Blog asked Nicole what she thought were the hottest tickets in town right now…

If you can believe it, there are some snobby people who aren’t convinced that Los Angeles has any culture reaching beyond frozen yogurt and making right turns on red lights (we’re looking at you, Woody Allen). Au contraire, we yogi-centric, art-loving Angelenos say – we’ve got an arts scene to rival any other metropolitan city. The common misconception is that Los Angeles is a town obsessed with large breasts, blonde highlights, and pink corvettes (thanks a lot, Angelyne). Although  that may be partially true, there is also a world of art in LA that has more to do with Bach than Botox and it has quite a following. Thus, an art-lover’s guide to Los Angeles…

Starting from the ocean and working our way east, as is only right, an architecture lover might make a pilgrimage to the Eames Foundation in the Pacific Palisades. An ode to the work of visionary architects and brothers Charles and Ray Eames, visitors can explore the grounds, but are only invited inside the house for a tour once a year. In Santa Monica, there is a veritable cross section of  Los Angeles art – Bergamot Station. Once a train station, the space is now a large parking lot filled with galleries, a café, and even a salon making it a spot that truly caters to locals, art-loving transplants, and visitors to the city. During the summer, you can set up a picnic on the beach just next to the Santa Monica Pier and listen to free concerts as part of their Twilight Series. (It has nothing to do with teenage vampires, worry not.) Past acts have included Patti Smith and Lila Downs.

Once you begin moving away from the ocean, you’ll want to make a pit stop at the relatively new Annenberg Space for Photography. Their exhibits are usually bold and striking and the gallery utilizes fascinating and interactive technology with which to explore the photos. Although  this city is run by the film industry, there is also some incredibly worthwhile theatre to take in and none more than whatever is currently on at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. Only in Hollywood can you find a cemetery dedicated to screening films that its current residents once starred in. The Cinespia screenings, which take place during the summer on the lawn at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, are a popular choice for an unusual evening. What’s better than watching To Catch a Thief under the stars?

As you move even farther from the beach, you’ll enter Downtown LA – once a pit of dangerous situations and tall buildings, the area is now thriving with Staples Center (for sports and concerts) and a plethora of restaurants. Certainly not the least of its draws is the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall,  the winter home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It’s beautiful on the outside for architecture lovers and on the inside for music lovers. In the Los Feliz area of the city, visitors can find two Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes – the Hollyhock House located at the Barnsdall Art Park and the Ennis House up in the hills above the city.

All in all, these suggestions just scratch the surface of a city brimming with artistic and cultural pioneers. You could say that the city of angels has a little bit of everything: we’ve got the glamour of the film industry and the grit of our underground artists, just as we have the beach and the mountains. It’s just lucky for you we can’t close the gates to this city and keep it all for ourselves.

If Nicole’s whet your appetite for a culture-packed stay in the crown of California, there’s a wealth of Los Angeles boutique hotels perfectly positioned for art-fuelled adventures. Check into Maison 140, a boutique guesthouse once home to Hollywood icon Lillian Gish, if you want to be close to the Geffen. Book glamour-soaked Viceroy Santa Monica and you’ll be just a short stroll from Santa Monica Pier, or bed down in the Standard Downtown LA – star of the city’s night scene. And, of course, if you’re cultured out and in need of some classic Hollywood  high life, there’s always Chateau Marmont

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5 Responses to “Inside LA: an art lover’s guide”

  1. What an amazing surmise of my hometown’s fabulous art and cultural scene! Living in New York, I sometimes forget all it is that the wonderful ‘EL AY’ really offers!

    Thank you Nicole for turning my eyes west-ward, once again!

    By Andrea F. Pagliai

  2. For goodness’ sake – Charles and Ray Eames were not brothers, but husband and wife!

    Another celebration of all things Eames is their grandson’s museum/shop on Pico Boulevard near 9th Street in Santa Monica, called The Eames Office. You’ll find Eames furniture and films, the brilliant House of Cards in three sizes, changing exhibits of 20th Century design, and a friendly staff full of information about the couple and their creations. A feast for the eyes.

    By Susan Slocum Hinerfeld

  3. Whoops Susan. Have to hold our hands up there. Thank you for the correction.

    Anyone wanting to brush up on their Eamesology (that would be us then) can check out The Eames Office at http://www.eamesoffice.com

    By Anthony

  4. Great write up – I so need to go visit this place!

    By Tobiah Tayo

  5. Well written and well choosen places to visit in La! Cinespa is my personal favorite in the Summer time!
    Miss Taryn

    By Taryn Cox

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