LA’s finest museums are cheap and within reach


Author: Paul Sirri

On a tight college budget, it seems impossible to spend time off campus without breaking the bank. While restaurants, retail stores and movie theaters are sure to pilfer students’ last dollars, fortunately, Los Angeles is home to numerous museums offering entertainment and culture at limited cost.

The Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum, a 15-minute drive from campus, is already a popular choice among Occidental students. Admission to the museum is free with a valid student ID, but for $3 students can pick up an audio guide to learn more about most featured pieces.

In addition to its low cost, the museum showcases a range of artistic styles. The most prominently featured are impressionist and post-impressionist art, though 14th –18th century European styles and contemporary art are both on display as well. In addition, the museum boasts an impressive variety of religious art from South and Southeast Asia, including works from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia and Thailand. A quiet sculpture garden featuring casts of several Rodins (including one of his most famous, “The Burghers of Calais,” which sits outside the main entrances) provides an opportunity for a romantic stroll.

The Norton Simon is free, local and small enough that several hours are enough to view most of the collection. As if that isn’t enough of an incentive, the museum also gives out full-size prints perfect for decorating a dorm room.

The Hammer Museum

The Hammer Museum, affiliated with University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), is a free public museum located near the campus, about 40 minutes from Occidental. It is known for its focus on individual, emerging artists. Current exhibitions include “Catherine Opie: Portraits,” a collection of 12 portraits of visual artists, fashion designers and writers. “Sculpture from the Hammer Contemporary Collection,” is also on display, featuring Judie Bamber, Tom Burr, and Tony Feher. The show, which will run till May 22, focuses on common, everyday objects, altering them in subtle ways to transform the items into works of art. Upcoming exhibition “Made in L.A.,” opening on June 12, will focus exclusively on local artists, extending into the disciplines of dance, fashion, literature, music, film and performance. This exhibition is the third iteration of the biennial series that highlights the artistic diversity and energy of Los Angeles.

Free student-led tours are available on Saturdays at 1 p.m. for those wanting to learn more about the artworks. Additionally, the adjacent Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden spans more than five acres of UCLA’s scenic campus, featuring over seventy sculptures.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is perhaps the best deal for students in terms of getting the most bang for their buck. This museum is a 30-minute drive from Occidental and charges $10 per student, though it is free for LA County residents after 3 p.m. on weekdays. A trip to the LACMA is a state-of-the-art experience; free public Wi-Fi and a downloadable museum app make time there more enjoyable and accessible than ever before. From the LACMA app, attendees can schedule and buy tickets for timed shows or exhibitions, navigate the museum using an interactive map and learn about individual works of art from its database of over 85,000 pieces.

A special exhibition, known as the Rain Room, is currently on display, though tickets for it are sold separately from general admission. The Rain Room was commissioned by Restoration Hardware in 2012 and created by London-based art collective Random International. It gained notoriety for its eight-hour lines in 2013, when it was installed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. LACMA’s website warns that visitors should expect long lines this time, too, and must adhere to special rules. High-heeled shoes are verboten, as are any dark, shiny or reflective articles of clothing that may affect the display. This exhibition aims to bring the weather indoors, as a lattice of hundreds of nozzles spout water from the ceiling of the Rain Room, creating a torrential downpour of rain which museumgoers walk through. Yet visitors exit completely dry — a series of cameras sense people’s movements, creating a digital 3D rendering of their bodies that is programmed to turn off the individual nozzles hanging overhead. The result is an indoor downpour with personalized rainclouds that follow the visitor’s every movement, keeping them dry in a bubble of 3D engineering. Tickets are sold out for the near future, though they are expected to be on sale again soon.

The Petersen Automotive Museum

The Petersen Automotive Museum offers a different sort of display, also within 15 miles of campus. Originally founded in 1994, this West Hollywood museum underwent a $90 million renovation in December 2015 that turned the physical structure of the building into a piece of art in itself. The gorgeous modern interior of the museum houses one of the largest automotive collections in the world, featuring everything from the first automobiles of the 20th century to the street-legal racing cars of 2016. Admission to the museum is $12 per student and grants access to the three-story collection of cars that examines the history, industry and artistry of automotive production from around the world. Those willing to spend an extra $20 are invited to the premium section of the museum, known as The Vault, which houses the truly remarkable exhibitions, including “Alternative Power,” “Automobiles in the Movies: Bond Cars,” “Race Cars for the Road” and “Precious Metal.” These exhibitions provide an opportunity to view some of the rarest vehicles ever produced, from the very first electric cars to James Bond’s Aston Martins. The Vault is a relatively pricey experience, but one that is utterly unique to the Petersen Museum. One glance at the surreal exterior architecture of this newly redesigned building will surely encourage passersby to plan their next visit.

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