Since my bestselling novel, Oil and Marble: a novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo, is art historical fiction, a lot of fans ask: “What are your favorite pieces of art?” And since I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over 15 years, people often ask what art they MUST SEE when traveling to LA-LA land.
When you’re visiting LA, you don’t want to spend all of your time in museums, do you? No, you want to be out in the wild, spotting celebrities. But do you also want to see the stars of the art world, too…?
Then this list is for you. Here is a list of my Top 10 “Must See” pieces of art in Los Angeles:
1: Irises by Vincent Van Gogh at the Getty
One of Vincent’s most iconic works lives at the Getty in Los Angeles. This work was painted in the last year of the artist’s life from irises growing in the garden of the asylum in Saint-Remy. Each unique bloom dances, talks, communes with each other. For me, this work is all about connection — and about the colors and brushstrokes that make Van Gogh’s genius undeniable.
2: Number 1, 1949 by Jackson Pollock at MOCA
Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings fascinate me: the movement, the colors, the pulsing beat… This one is from 1949, the same year that Life magazine asked if Pollock was “The greatest living painter in the United States?” His fame, however, ate at him, and he became an alcoholic, dying in a car crash in 1956 at the age of 44. One brilliant life — captured in frenetic splattering of paint on canvas.
3: Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough at The Huntington
This is arguably the most famous work by Thomas Gainsborough, the acclaimed 18th century British portrait painter. I love this painting because it’s like stepping back in time: that blue shimmering outfit, the feathered hat, the boy’s face… whenever I visit this painting I’m immediately transported back to 18th century England — even though I’m standing in 21st century Southern California.
4: Dancer at Rest by Edgar Degas at the Norton Simon Museum
There are many masterpieces in the Norton Simon, but this dancer statue — dominating the center of the Degas room — is one of the true highlights. I love that she’s standing there, perfectly in repose, doused in light, a strange combination of graceful yet awkward, comfortable with being watched… This quiet space with this quiet friend is a wonderful escape from the noise of LA.
5: Rouen Cathedral by Claude Monet at the Getty
Monet famously painted this church facade over and over again at different times of the day to capture the way light changes seemingly immutable objects. This one was captured in the morning, when the early light was beginning to envelop the spires while the portal remained in grainy darkness. Light changes. Everything is ephemeral. We are only in THIS moment for this moment. Thank you, Claude.
6: Portrait of Frida Kahlo by Diego Rivera at LACMA
We usually see Frida Kahlo through her own self-portraits, but here is one of Mexico’s greatest artist and famed feminist icon as seen through the eyes of her husband, muralist Diego Rivera. It’s the only known easel portrait of his wife (likely painted during the period between their two marriages), and he kept it in his studio until he died (three years after Frida had passed). A unique view of Frida Kahlo living in Los Angeles.
7: Titian’s Portrait of a Man a Man of Armor at the Hammer Museum
The Hammer Museum has a great Old Master collection, including many of the great Italian painters. Titian was one of the greatest painters of the 16th century, even rivaling Michelangelo himself. Titian painted this portrait when he was around 40 years old, at the height of his career in Venice. The gleaming armor, catching the light, draws me in every time I see it.
8: Infinity Mirrored Room by Yayoi Kusama at The Broad
With limited admission and only on display through October 2017, not everyone will get to experience this room, but they should. Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away is a mirror-lined room filled with a multitude of LED lights. This is beyond a piece of art, it is an experience that can only be enjoyed in downtown Los Angeles.
9: Head of Athena at the Getty Villa
The Getty Villa houses a fascinating antique collection housed in a remake of a Greek Villa right on the Pacific Coast. The architecture and the ambiance are well worth a visit, but the collection of antiquities is remarkable and the most important piece is this head of Athena. Her nose is broken, her body lost, but she’s still there — Greek goddess of wisdom, war, and art. Only in Athena, perhaps, are those three things ever combined.
10: The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil by Claude Monet at the Norton Simon
This masterpiece by Claude Monet is one of many jewels at the Norton Simon. It’s likely a preparatory painting for the larger version held in the National Gallery of Art in DC, but it has an energy and freedom that the larger version doesn’t. This was painted during the years when Monet was struggling: he was broke, no one wanted his work, and his beloved wife had died. And yet, this painting exhudes a sense of freedom and joy.
Los Angeles is filled with world-class art.
What are your favorite pieces?