Just in time for summer and urban expedition weather, we’ve updated our map of amazing, weird, notable, and all-around-excellent public art in Los Angeles, highlighting some of the best and most visible murals, sculptures, and installations in the city. Big boulders, huge rainbows, holograms that mimic your footsteps, a de facto mural row—all those and more are featured on this 44-point guide to finding public art all around Los Angeles.
“URBAN LIGHT” BY CHRIS BURDEN
Los Angeles’s own Eiffel Tower (or Empire State Building or London Eye or whatever) is made up of 202 cast iron streetlamps, most of which once stood on LA streets. The lights are now solar powered and come on every night at dusk. If you don’t want to stand on Wilshire watching them all night, they do have their own “virtual flipbook” app
. Burden died just last week
“AMERICA TROPICAL” BY DAVID ALFARO SIQUEIROS
“America Tropical” was painted on the Italian Hall at El Pueblo in 1932, but whitewashed shortly after. The mural finished up a long-term conservation
ALMOST INVISIBLE BOXES BY JOSHUA CALLAGHAN
Don’t embarrass yourself by walking into one of these nine crafty pieces—they blend into the Downtown CC landscape at first, but they’re actually utility boxes wrapped in vinyl that’s printed with images of the surrounding area.
ELVIS PRESLEY, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, MARILYN MONROE, BEATLES BY HECTOR PONCE
Hollywood specializes in odd celebrity murals—these are some of the most recognizable ones, painted in 2001 on the side of the otherwiseunremarkable Harvey Apartments
BEEHIVE BY ERIC OWEN MOSS
Architect Eric Owen Moss has built all kinds of wild stuff in Culver City’s Hayden Tract. The Beehive is part of an office building—its made up of four columns wrapped in a staircase.
“THE WALL PROJECT”
Ten original segments of the Berlin Wall arrived in Los Angeles
in late 2009; they were installed on Wilshire Blvd. and painted by artists including Kent Twitchell and Thierry Noir. According to the Wende Museum
, which brought them to LA, they “form the longest stretch of this iconic historical monument outside of Berlin.”
SIDEWALK TERRAZZO BY ARTHUR D. PIZZINAT, SR.
The sidewalk terrazzo in front of Clifton’s Cafeteria on Broadway dates back to the ’30s and includes representations of SoCal landmarks including City Hall, the Coliseum, and the Tar Pits. Clifton’s is in the middle of a long hipster remodel
right now, so these might be obscured.
“BLACKLIST” BY JENNY HOLZER
In 1999, faculty in USC’s Filmic Writing Program commissioned “Blacklist,” which consists of 10 stone benches engraved with quotes from members of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten. The piece sits in a garden designed by Professor Achva Benzinberg Stein.
“MOTORDOM” BY KEITH SONNIER
“Motordom” is four stories of neon and argon tubes that send red and blue light flashing around Caltrans District 7′s outdoor lobby, through its glass walls, and into the building (which was designed by Morphosis). According to the Department of Transportation, it’s the largest public art installation in LA.
“CRADLE” BY BALL-NOGUES
“Cradle” is made up of hundreds of stainless steel balls hanging in office toy formation off the side of the parking structure at the Santa Monica Place mall. The piece went up in the summer of 2010.
“DRIVE BY” BY ELECTROLAND
“Drive By” is 240 feet of scrolling LED movie quotes (“If you build it, they will come,” for instance), and it went up and came down pretty quickly back in 2007, when the city decided it qualified as an advertisement. After a long fight, the piece went back up
on NoHo Commons in early 2011.
“FOUR ARCHES” BY ALEXANDER CALDER
Calder’s sculpture is 63 feet tall and bright orangey red, so it stands out on Bunker Hill, where it sits in the Bank of America Building’s plaza. According to the Community Redevelopment Agency of LA
, which commissioned the piece in the 1970s, its “main curves stem from one main spine and race through the sky like steel ribbons.”
“LUMINOUS SPHERE” BY PIERO GOLIA
“GREAT WALL OF LOS ANGELES” BY JUDITH BACA
The Great Wall of Los Angeles stretches for a half a mile along the Tujunga Flood Control Channel and tells the history of California starting in the prehistoric era. It was started in 1974 and painted by hundred of young locals, along with artists and other community members. The Social and Public Art Resource Center, the group that created the mural, has been working on a major restoration and extension.
HOLLYWOOD/VINE RED LINE STATION BY GILBERT “MAGU” LUJAN
For the subway station at the most famous intersection in town, Lujan (with Miralles Associates, Inc.) went all out on the theme, as Metro describes
: “Bus shelter designs make reference to Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a stretch limousine, and the Brown Derby Restaurant. The elevator entrance resembles a movie theater with its marquee greeting riders on the street. From the street level plaza down to the subway platform, passengers follow paving which recalls the yellow brick road from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ and pass by 240 hand painted art tiles on the station walls. The interior handrailing design houses the musical notes to the song ‘Hooray for Hollywood.’ The interior of the station contains various artifacts and references to the film industry. Film reels decorate the ceiling while two original film projectors from the 1930s, donated by Paramount Pictures, are on exhibit.”
“INVERTED CLOCKTOWER” BY TIM HAWKINSON
The “Inverted Clocktower” is made to look like the relief of a clocktower that was magically removed whole from the corner of the Grand Central Market’s parking structure. The Community Redevelopment Agency of LA describes: “the brickwork and masonry of this fictitious clocktower are ‘recorded’ by a mold made from the poured concrete walls and walkways of the new garage building. To further confound the viewer with its paradoxical presence/absence, the clocktower’s clock dials run counterclockwise and the Roman numerals are reversed.”
“SIXBEASTSTWOMONKEYS” BY PETER SHELTON
What are the sculptures of “sixbeaststwomonkeys,” which sit alongside the LAPD headquarters Downtown? Then-Chief Bill Bratton guessed at “some kind of cow splat” when they were installed
in 2009. Headless animals? Creepy babies? Who knows, but everyone seems to have an odd fondness for them anyway.
LAX PYLONS BY PAUL TZANETOPOULOS/TED TOKIO TANAKA
Thanks to Hollywood, the pylons and LAX letters at LAX are familiar the world over after only 15 years in place. The letters are 32 feet high; the 26 pylons range from 25 to 60 feet along Century Blvd. and hit 100 feet at Century and Sepulveda. The lights were replaced with LEDs in 2006—they “burn less electricity while providing more vibrant hues,”according to Los Angeles World Airports
. However, the pylons’ electricity still costs the airport $18,000 a year.
“TEUCLA” BY RICHARD SERRA
“TEUCLA” is 42.5 tons of signature Serra, a “torqued ellipse” twisting its way around the plaza of the Broad Art Center at UCLA. When it was installed in 2006, it was “the first work by the artist to be on permanent view in a public space in Southern California,” according to the Art Center
“FORK IN THE ROAD” BY KEN MARSHALL
Pasadena’s giant fork in the road (really in a Caltrans median) first went up in the dead of night in 2009, as a birthday prank for a comedy club owner. Everyone took such a shine to it, that, after some time off the road, it was stuck in permanently
in October 2011.
VENICE ART WALLS BY ANYONE WITH A PERMIT
The Venice Art Walls are open for painting by any artist with a permit and the urge (on weekends and holidays anyway). They’re curated by In Creative Unity
, a “graffitti arts advocacy group,” that “has lead the movement to preserve the walls as a living memorial to the high quality graffiti style art which has taken place on these walls for over thirty years.”
BEVERLY/VERMONT RED LINE STATION BY GEORGE STONE
Stone, perhaps eponymously, created rocky outcroppings throughout this subway station.According to Metro
, they’re “based on the actual geology of this location.”
WATTS TOWERS BY SIMON RODIA
Italian immigrant Simon Rodia built the three Watts Towers by hand over three decades, from the 1920s through the 1950s—they’re made up of steel rods wrapped in wire mesh, coated in cement and embedded with shells, ceramic shards, pieces of bottle, and other trinkets. While admission will cost you, they’re visible from all over the neighborhood.
“MISS MAO TRYING TO POISE HERSELF AT THE TOP OF LENIN’S HEAD” BY GAO ZHEN AND GAO QIANG
This giant chrome statue of Vladimir Lenin’s head (with a little tightrope walker on top) really livens up the drive down La Brea. The piece caused quite the stir at the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale in 2009 and showed up in LA in late 2011.
ON SATURDAYS BY ROBBERT FLICK
Flick’s photographs at the Expo Line’s Expo/USC station were taken every few seconds as he drove around this neighborhood, capturing Adams, Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and other surrounding streets.
NEIGHBORHOOD PORTRAIT: RECONSTRUCTED BY JESSICA POLZIN MCCOY
At the Expo Line’s Expo/Vermont station, these watercolor collages “describe the window frames, doorways and garden gates that define the architecture of entryways” in West Adams. On the platform, there are “similarly assembled paintings of local residents seated in the interiors of their homes.”
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR STATUE BY ROTTBLATT-AMRANY
For the art-loving sports fan or the sports-loving arts fan, the statue of Abdul-Jabbar (in skyhook position) joined the small group of statues outside Staples last year. You can also see Magic Johnson, Jerry West, Chick Hearn, Oscar de la Hoya, and Wayne Gretzky.
COWBOY CUTOUTS BY JUSTIN STADEL
Artist Stadel originally put up cutouts of fake cowboy figures—ike Clint Eastwood and Gene Autry—on a hill above the 2 Freeway to amuse commuters. Eventually he donated the works (and more) to Glendale.
“LEAGUE OF SHADOWS” BY P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S
Faculty members won a competition to design this SCI-Arc graduation pavilion, which gets its name from its sunblocking powers. Back in 2013, it was reported the piece would sit in the school’s parking lot for four or five years.
“WEATHER FIELD NO. 1″ BY INIGO MANGLANO-OVALLE
This piece in beautiful Tongva Park is composed of 49 stainless steel poles, each with a weather vane and anenometer, which allows it to create its own very tiny microclimate.
CHANDELIER TREE BY ADAM TANENBAUM
Artist/contractor/set-builder Adam Tenenbaum started stringing up spare chandeliers in the tree outside his house one day with the help of his aerialist roommate, and several years later the neighborhood is in love with this lovely piece. Only in Silver Lake, probably.
“BLACK TOTEMS” BY HERB ALPERT
Oozy sculptures from artist/Tijuana Brass leader Alpert distract from construction on the Expo Line extension and extend the reach of the Bergamot Station Art Center.
“RAINBOW” BY TONY TASSET
It’s not entirely public, but you can see this enormous rainbow from several spots in Culver City. The piece is supposedly a tribute to The Wizard of Oz, which was shot on the MGM (now Sony) lot.
WPA MOSAICS BY GRACE CLEMENTS
A Long Beach Airport renovation project unearthed these awesome 1941 floor mosaics commissioned by Clements—they were hidden under carpet for years.
“LEVITATED MASS” BY MICHAEL HEIZER
Los Angeles waited a long time for monumental “Levitated Mass,” a 340-ton boulder resting on a 456-foot-long walk-through trench on LACMA’s northwest corner, but it’ll be around a while (roughly 3,500 years?). The region was captivated by the boulder’s move from Riverside, then decided they were too cool for the finished project. Don’t be too cool for “Levitated Mass”!
“PROJECTION” BY VINCENT LAMOUROUX
Last month, the spooky ruin that was the Sunset Pacific motel was transformed into a giant white art piece that the artist says was intended to both blend in and stand out. It’s already become a pretty hot spot for selfies and Instagram shots. Around the end of the year, the hotel will be razed to make way for one of three
mixed-use complexes planned for Sunset Junction. [Photo by Elizabeth Daniels
OVERPASSES BY NED KHAN AND JENNA DIDIER
Two new installations on the 101 Freeways overpasses at Los Angeles Street and Main Street are designed to be beautiful but also functional, lighting up at night to give passersby a greater sense of security. One responds to pollution in the air; another has lights that mimic the footsteps of pedestrians. [Photo by Karol Franks
“GENERATORS OF THE CYLINDER” BY MICHAEL HAYDEN
Colorful circles in front of the International Jewelry Center employ “holograms, a hidden computer, and infrared sensors to reflect the motions of passers-by back at them in ‘flashes and swirls’ of a rainbow of colors.” Installed in 1981, the sculpture shut down in 2008, and was refurbished, repaired, and turned on in January 2015 for the first time since then.
SKID ROW MURAL BY RESIDENTS
Between Fifth and Sixth Streets on San Julian, this mural depicts the borders of Skid Row and orients the viewer in the area. This mural is the first to be planned, created, and paid for entirely by residents of the neighborhood, without any help or funding from nonprofits. [Photo by Stephen Zeigler]
“LOS ANGELES OPENS ITS HEART OF COMPASSION” BY CLIFF GARTEN
This 15-foot tall, 10-foot wide chandelier is “created by a cylindrical array of abstracted lotusflower shapes made of laser cut aluminum and illuminated with white light.” Fun fact: the lotus is a symbol of enlightenment in Korean culture. It sits out in front of The Vermont
apartment complex, obscuring the parking structure.
“THE WALL THAT SPEAKS, SINGS, AND SHOUTS” BY PAUL BOTELLO
There’s a lot going on in this mural commissioned in 2000 by the famed norteño band Los Tigres del Norte at Ruben F. Salazar Park. It’s on the side of a building, in a parking lot, but is so colorful and complex that its off-to-the-side location doesn’t do it any disservice. [Image via LA County Arts Commission
“CITY OF DREAMS/ RIVER OF HISTORY” BY RICHARD WYATT
Find this mural at Union Station, where the tunnels to the Amtrak/Metrolink trains meet Patsaourus Plaza. It reflects
all Angelenos, past and present, showing Native Americans, settlers, and present-day residents of LA. Wyatt’s done a number of other projects
throughout the city in areas that accommodate mass transit, like the 110 Freeway and a Purple Line station.
MURAL MILE BY VARIOUS ARTISTS
A stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard in Pacoima is so painted up with awesome murals, it’s basically Mural Mile
. Works by Levi Ponce and Hector Ponce number among the many, many pieces on walls of salons, markets, and other small businesses.