Happy 50th, LACMA

The art institution marks a half century on the Miracle Mile.

When your city is in the middle of a full-on museum growth spurt, in terms of easy access, great and interesting works, and the number of places to go, it can be hard to remember sparser times gone by.

And there was a time when LA was considered to be, at least by people living in more established metropolises, just a two-bit town rife with movie cowboys, all giddy-up glamour but no gravitas.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art is largely responsible for changing that mindset, here and everywhere, through its ever-growing and conversation-provoking collection, its new campus builds, its future plans, and projects that at first seemed as way out as way out gets but have, in time, drawn the envy and admiration of many near and far.

Levitated Mass, yes, we were speaking of you there, fondly, with a touch of genuflection. You're our favorite boulder and bold idea.

LACMA, that grand dame of Miracle Mile, turned 50 on April 1. The William Pereira-designed buildings opened on the first day of April in 1965, and the art world rippled madly. Or perhaps burbled, in the way the La Brea Tar Pits, LACMA's nearest neighbor, burble constantly.

For sure, a county art museum had presence here long before the museum's paintings made their way down Wilshire Boulevard back in 1965, having been a part of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art in Exposition Park since the early part of the century.

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But the creation of a stellar stand-alone institution, a cultural hub running on the twin engines of magnitude and considerable capital, helped smooth the path for the art-forward metropolis LA was to become (hello, Getty Center, MOCA, SMMoA, Hammer, the upcoming Broad, hello hello to all of you cutting-edge galleries and purveyors of ideas that grew on your own but fly compatibly in the solar system that is our city's robust art scene).

So how will one of the country's largest art museums, in terms of campus size, commendable collection, and still-to-come projects, celebrate? There is a 50th anniversary exhibit on tap, starting on April 26, where 50 works will go on show to celebrate the occasion. Update: The 50 works will be "gifts on the occasion of the 50th," so look forward to fresh works, longtime LACMA fans.

Look for just-acquired, headline-making Miguel Cabrera work to be in the 50 for 50: Gifts on the Occasion of LACMA's Anniversary show. 

Talk of architect Peter Zumthor's designs for fresh contemporary buildings, and the evolution of those designs, is still thick in the air, too. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will move in next door to LACMA, too, in a few years, at the former May Company building, adding more light to a location already well-lit in all the ways.

Yes, we're making a pointed nod in the direction of Urban Light, because why wouldn't we? The lamp forest outside LACMA added whimsy to Wilshire, a stately boulevard that received its last dash of whimsy when the tar pits mammoths arrived just a couple of years after LACMA's debut.

So here's to 50 more years, LACMA. We're sure there'll be lots of new stuff to look upon in the year 2065 and we're sure that hardly anyone, by that point, will be dismissive of our city's risk-cool, let's-try-that role in expanding the arts in exciting, boulder-big ways. 

Pictured: The new Calder poster commissioned by LACMA in honor of its first half century.

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