10 Best Things to Do at L.A. Museums this Summer

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From Van Gogh and Kandinsky masterpieces to treasures from ancient Pompeii, there’s something to inspire everyone this summer. Here’s my Best of Summer picks for fun things to do at L.A. museums for kids and adults.  See you in the galleries!

Van Gogh, The Poplars at Saint-Rémy, 19891. Expressionism in France and Germany: From Van Gogh to KandinskyLACMA (through September 14, 2014)

Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse; you won’t believe the breathtaking masterpieces in this show. And the installation’s dark blue gallery walls totally make the vibrant colors of the paintings pop. The exhibition illustrates that Expressionism was not a uniquely German style, but rather an international movement fueled by a cultural dialogue between French and German modern artists just before the start of World War One. Best Pick: Out-of-Town Guests

Icon with the Archangel Michael, about A.D. 1300–1350,2. Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from the Greek Collections, the Getty Villa Museum (CLOSED August 25)

The exhibition traces the visual development of Byzantine culture, beginning with its roots in the ancient pagan world to the deeply spiritual Christian Byzantine Empire. Christian era objects on display include glittering gold icons, frescoes, mosaics, and jewelry. My son just finished studying ancient civilizations in 6th grade so a trip to the Getty Villa and to the Pompeii exhibition (below) is a must for our family this summer.


Installation view of body cast from Pompeii: The Exhibition, California Science Center3. Pompeii: The Exhibition, California Science Center (through January 4, 2015)

Fascinated by ancient Rome but can’t afford a ticket to Italy this summer? Thanks to an extensive loan from the Italian government, now you can see 150 artifacts from the ruins of Pompeii right here in L.A.  Excavated artifacts (including the famous body casts), and the exhibition’s multimedia and interactive features, give visitors a sense of how ancient Pompeiians lived and died. Note: The volcanic destruction of Pompeii was a catastrophic event that may frighten young or sensitive children.


James Ensor, Skeleton Painting4. The Scandalous Art of James EnsorGetty Center Museum (through September 7, 2014).

A rare opportunity to see over 100 works by Belgium artist James Ensor. Ensor’s work was so defiant and outrageous for his time (the late 1800’s) that it even shocked his avant-garde peers. The exhibition includes two of Ensor’s greatest masterpieces; Temptation of St. Anthony (1887), an oversized drawing made with 51 sheets of sketch paper, and the Getty’s Christ’s Entry into Brussels (1889) with a cool interactive that lets you to zoom-in on the painting’s details.


Route66 installation view, The Autry5. Route 66: The Road and the Romance, the Autry in Griffith Park (through January 4, 2015)

Explore the history of Route 66, one of America’s most legendary highways. Completed in 1926, Route 66 spans 2,400 miles from Chicago to Los AngelesWith an eclectic mix of objects and memorabilia — from a classic 1960 Corvette convertible and vintage gas pump (see photo) tthe original typewritten scroll of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road — this exhibition is bound to get you psyched for a summer road trip. For the young ones, there’s a section about the Route 66-inspired Disney Pixar movie Cars with original animation models and drawings.


Detail from Ezra Jack Keats illustration for The Snowy Day, The Skirball Center6. The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, Skirball Cultural Center (September 7, 2014).

An inspiring, and very kid-friendly, journey into the creative world of Ezra Jack Keats, the award-winning author and illustrator of many beloved children’s books including The Snowy Day (1962).  Published during the civil rights movement, The Snowy Day was the first modern full-color picture book to feature an African-American main character. Kids will love the exhibition’s fun interactive features like a simulated snow walk and family guide (see my review).  Best Pick: Families

Channing Hansen, Polytop Soap, 2013. 7. Made in L.A. 2014, Hammer Museum (through September 7, 2014)

The Hammer’s second-ever biennial Made in L.A. 2014 features works by 35 Los Angeles artists, with an emphasis on emerging or under recognized artists. You’ll find contemporary new works in a variety of mediums; ceramics, paintings, videos, sculptures, photography, and live performances. See the “Best in Show” picks by the L.A. Times and the L.A. I’m Yours blog for highlights.  Some works contain adult content, so preview the show before you visit with children.

Don’t miss the Made in L.A. Music  series featuring live music by local artists, KCRW DJ’ sets, and a pre-concert happy hour. I can’t think of a better way to experience the biennial then this opportunity to stroll the galleries and spend a warm summer evening in the Hammer’s hip courtyard. Thursday evenings in July (7/10, 7/17, 7/24, 7/31). Free. Best Pick: Night Out

Robert Swain Installation view at SMMoA8. Robert Swain: The Form of Color, Santa Monica Museum of Art (CLOSED August 23, 2014)

Robert Swain’s The Form of Color is an all-encompassing visual encounter. Created specifically for the Museum and its sunlight galleries, the installation contains a series of painted color grids designed to activate, and call attention to, the viewer’s perceptual process.  Take your time and explore how the color grids change depending on where you stand. I recommend visiting the exhibition with someone so you can share what you’re experiencing, like seeing shapes within shapes, and colors that seem to shimmer.


Closing Soon: The exhibitions below are from my list of best picks for Spring Break. Both close in July, so see them now if you haven’t already.

Andy Warhol, Pele, 1978. Courtesy of the Andy Warhol Foundation

9. Fútbol: The Beautiful Game, LACMA (CLOSED July 20, 2014)

With the exciting World Cup games underway in Brazil, this is the show to see for soccer-crazed fans young and old. Fútbol-inspired paintings, photographs, videos, prints and sculptures by local and international artists explore the beauty, brawn, and excitement of the game; and its cultural significance in societies around the world. I visited this exhibition with a group of young soccer players, and they loved it (see my review).


10. Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to IconicLACMA (CLOSED July 27, 2014).

This retrospective brings together fifty Alexander Calder sculptures in an installation designed by architect Frank Gehry. Using ordinary flat sheets of metal and thin wire, Calder created extraordinary abstract mobiles that revolutionized the world of modern sculpture. See my review for some great tips on visiting Calder and Abstraction with children.


Image Credits:

  1. Vincent van Gogh, The Poplars at Saint-Rémy (Les peupliers sur la Colline), 1889. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. (1958.32). Photo © The Cleveland Museum of Art.
  2. Icon of the Archangel Michael (Detail), Byzantine, from Constantinople, a.d. 1300–1350. Courtesy of the Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens.
  3. Pompeii: The Exhibition. Installation view of body cast from Pompeii, the California Science Center. Photo by Kristina Kurasz. Courtesy of mnn.com
  4. James Ensor, Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, (Detail), 1888–early1890s. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Artwork © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels.
  5. Route 66: The Road and the Romance. Installation view, The Autry, photo by © Museum Stories
  6. Ezra Jack Keats, Crunch, crunch, crunch, his feet sank into the snow (Detail). Final illustration for The Snowy Day, 1962.  Ezra Jack Keats Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi. Copyright Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
  7. Channing Hansen, Polytop Soap, 2013. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Joshua White (cropped).
  8. Robert Swain: The Form of Color. Installation view, SMMoA, 2014, photo by © Museum Stories.
  9. Andy Warhol, Pele, 1978. Courtesy of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
  10. Alexander Calder, La Grande vitesse (intermediate maquette) 1969, Calder Foundation, New York. © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York/Art Resource, NY.

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