Lost in a labyrinth of lights, encased in a giant latticework of black aluminum and standing outdoors under a massive rock formation, I felt like Alice in Wonderland in an oversized world.
I was actually walking through and under several new installations at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Chris Burden's "Urban Light," made of 212 cast-iron lampposts powered by solar energy, forms a beacon of light at night on Wilshire Boulevard, while in the main Ahmanson Pavilion, artist Tony Smith's "Smoke" encases its visitors in a giant hexagonal sculpture.
Michael Heizer's ambitious "Levitated Mass," a monolithic rock, creates an archway on the museum's 20-acre campus.
LACMA, which already attracts about 1 million visitors yearly, is undergoing a major 10-year expansion called Transformation. The newest addition, Resnick Pavilion, is the only naturally lit open-plan museum space in the world.
It's one of many transformations taking place in the greater Los Angeles area, which is a real haven for world-class art and design. The region's arts world -- 105 museums strong -- is bursting with renovations, new construction and a strong lineup of shows for 2013. Here is what we are finding new and noteworthy:
Building the Broad
In downtown L.A., the much-anticipated Broad Museum is under construction and slated to open in 2014 with about 2,000 works of contemporary art collected by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. This three-level, 120,000-square-foot space was designed by the world-renowned architects of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
A cultural gem
Across from Union Station stands the city's newest museum, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which is free and a must. The museum takes up two historic buildings next to the first church of Los Angeles (dating back to the late 1700s). Touching testimonials took me on an insightful journey into L.A.'s Mexican-American culture. Every visitor has a chance to have his or her story become part of the living history at this museum, too, by entering the electronic contribution booth where one's photo is taken along with an oral history. This information is transferred to an enormous mosaic touch screen that can be accessed instantly.
Coming to LACMA
LACMA is the largest encyclopedic art museum in the Western United States, with 150,000 art pieces spanning prehistoric to the present. It has the most extensive Korean art collection outside of Korea and some of the world's finest Islamic art. The museum also contains an enormous costume and textile collection dating to 100 B.C., which includes the historic Ardabil Carpet, a masterpiece of Iranian craftsmanship, and a vast 18th- and 19th-century European costume collection.
Architecture at the MOCA
Across from the Broad stands the Museum of Contemporary Art, with one of the finest collections of contemporary art in North America -- from abstract expressionism to pop art, from both established and emerging artists. MOCA will celebrate its 35th anniversary in early 2014.
A modernistic creation of architect Richard Meier, the 110-acre Getty Center highlights both nature and culture with sweeping views of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean.
Some works by great European artists will be making first-time appearances this year:
Two upcoming exhibitions will highlight Los Angeles and its storied past:
Greats at the Norton Simon
The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, a 30-minute ride from downtown Los Angeles, has an astounding private collection of 12,000 objects of art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, from Rembrandt and Rubens to Van Gogh, Goya and Picasso. Included are more than 100 works by Degas.
There is a separate collection of South Asian art spanning 2,000 years.
I enjoyed sitting at the outdoor cafe and sculpture garden with its Japanese-style pond and admiring works of Maillol, Moore and Brancusi.
New Korean gallery
L.A.'s smaller, more specialized museums are equally as impressive -- particularly Pasadena's Pacific Asia Museum, one of the few art venues in the United States dedicated exclusively to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands.
The new Gallery of Korean Art just opened in October.
Two upcoming exhibitions feature Japanese art:
Focus on California
Around the corner sits the cozy Pasadena Museum of California Art, which explores the evolution of California artists and designers.
In San Marino, next door to Pasadena, I explored the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, with its newly renovated European gallery of 18th- and 19th-century British and French art. Gainsborough's "The Blue Boy" and Lawrence's "Pinkie" are on view here.
This historic library is undergoing a major renovation until the fall of 2013, but its world treasures -- one of the original Gutenberg Bibles, the earliest manuscript of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" and rare early editions of William Shakespeare's work -- remain on view.
Most impressive, though, are more than a dozen gardens covering 120 of the 207 acres, including the spectacular Desert, Japanese and Rose gardens. The new Chinese Garden is also worth a visit.
I could have spent the entire day just roaming this wonderland of flowers and foliage, which would have made Alice truly envious.
Contact Beverly Mann via firstname.lastname@example.org.
'Discover the Arts' in L.A.
For the annual "Discover the Arts" program, about 50 cultural, visual and performing institutions throughout Los Angeles will offer discounted prices to visitors. The promotion, co-sponsored by Wells Fargo, runs through April 30. For details, go to www.discoverlosangeles.com.
IF YOU GO
Where to stay:
These Hollywood hotels are near the Metro subway, which will take you to downtown museums and close to Highway 101 for the drive to Pasadena museums:
Loews Hollywood Hotel, which is getting a $26 million renovation this spring. 1755 N. Highland Ave. www.loewshotels.com.
W Hollywood, 6250 Hollywood Blvd. www.whollywoodhotel.com.
Where to eat:
LACMA, MOCA, the Norton and the Huntington all have outdoor cafes to enjoy both the scenery and surrounding art. This includes LACMA's new Ray's and Stark Bar.
Sadie Kitchen and Lounge serves creative fare. Dinner only. 1638 N. Las Palmas Ave., Los Angeles. 323-467-0200; www.sadiela.com.
Tortilla Republic is a popular new Mexican grill and margarita bar with an island twist. 616 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood. 310-657-9888; http://tortillarepublic.com.
More arts info:
Check out www.discoverlosangeles.com.
-- Beverly Mann