Downtown LA has been at the center of the Los Angeles art scene for far longer than most people realize. Before world class museums, like The Broad, or glittering international galleries, like Hauser & Wirth, DTLA was for the artists. Some may even argue the neighborhood’s influence was so momentous, so tangible that it could be imagined as a character in the scene itself. From the 1970s through the 1990s, artists were drawn in increasing numbers to the cheap, industrial spaces of Downtown LA. The sky-high, paned windows originally installed for manufacturing ventilation now allowed for light-drenched, blank-slate concrete spaces perfect for grassroots galleries, paint-strewn studios, and makeshift stages for experimental installations and groundbreaking performance art. The area once characterized for its post-office hours desolation became a 24/7 hive of energy and creativity so well documented that it was often referred to as the “SoHo of the West”. This history gives shape to Downtown LA’s positioning in the art world today and though it’s gone through some transformations, it’s still just as vital. Here are some suggestions on a variety of ways to enjoy art in DTLA.
Opened in 1986, MOCA Grand Avenue was designed by Architect Arata Isozaki using inspiration from LA pop culture. Today this location hosts the museum's main galleries showcasing a stunning permanent collection and ever-changing special exhibitions. Just down the street is The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA (formerly The Temporary Contemporary) that opened in 1983. This 40,000 square foot gallery is built in a former police car warehouse and was renovated by decorated architect Frank Gehry. Admission to both museums is free.
In 2015, Downtown LA became home to contemporary art museum The Broad. Designed by famed architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler, the 120,000 square foot museum showcases the impressive collection of philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad. Sitting across from Frank Gehry’s iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall, the $140 million building is impossible to miss and its whimsical, modern exterior gives a clue to the type of art shown within. Admission to The Broad is also free but reservations are suggested for guaranteed entry.
New Age of Public Art
New technologies are creating new opportunities for public art, and DTLA is in the forefront of that movement, with exhibitions ranging from augmented reality to projection mapping that add new dimensions to your experience of the city.
Grand Ave Augmented is an interactive augmented reality art experience that was created to showcase the major cultural institutions and public spaces of Grand Avenue by featuring 40+ activations including original art works by over two dozen local artists. The experience can be enjoyed at any time by anyone with a smart phone for free. Watch a futuristic 3D Fashion Show from artist AK Liesenfeld on the plaza behind MOCA as she explores elements of the impossible in how the fabrics are made and move. Marvel as angels float over Angels Landing by Daniel and Anna Leighton or let Leah Smithson mesmerize with her piece, Feels Like Water behind the Walt Disney Concert Hall. With so many different pieces to experience, it’s easy to turn an exploration into a day.
LUMINEX, originally launched in 2020 by NOW Art’s founder & chief curator Carmen Zella, wowed attendees with jaw-dropping art projections on various buildings throughout the neighborhood. In September 2022, LUMINEX 2.0: Projected Realities stunned thousands of attendees again with more thought-provoking digital artwork that illuminated the stark contrast between ‘Projections’ and ‘Realities.’ Projecting against architectural facades in a 5-block walkable radius of DTLA, 12 internationally acclaimed and local artists transformed buildings with monumental works of art. Be sure to keep an eye out for future iterations of this amazing initiative.
There are dozens of art galleries in Downtown LA so it’s always good to do some research if you’re looking to buy that next piece for your home or you just want to do some gallery hopping, but here are just a few we love.
The Hive Gallery on Spring Street was founded in 2005 and it is a truly unique and vibrant gallery/studio experience. The Hive is buzzing with five featured artists a month, two full galleries, 25 working artists, and an artist-made item store.
Originally opened in 1970, Cirrus Gallery moved to Downtown LA in 1979. Proudly known as one of the first major galleries to open in DTLA, Cirrus helped shape the burgeoning identity of the LA Arts District as a center for artistic practice and public display.
Switzerland-based gallery Hauser & Wirth opened in DTLA to much excitement in 2016 and remains a central figure in the LA creative scene. Occupying a former flour mill, the gallery presents art exhibitions, events, and other community-based programming as well as offering an art book store and serving as the home to the foodie-favorited restaurant, Manuela.