With all the esoteric acronyms used, reading about museums in Los Angeles can be as confusing as navigating your way from the 101 to the 60 Freeway. The only things more ubiquitous than the puzzling highway system are the myriad of museums in L.A.

While traditionally known more for its commerce than art (and, yes, the film industry of late is placed in the former), the City of Angels actually has more museums than any other metropolis in the world. Though it may be some time before The David Hockney Code awakens the international community to the artistic stew pot of the Pacific, a number of current exhibitions reveal that there's more to L.A. than indecipherable vanity plates and in-the-median fruit vendors.


Now-Sept. 4 @ Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

London's Royal College of Art had quite a distinguished class of '59: sharing graduation party shepherd's pie were David Hockney and Ridley Scott. Angelinos may be more familiar with the auteur's work, debating the regular vs. director's cut of Blade Runner , but it's unlikely LACMA – even with its renovation – will be giving the G.I. Jane director a retrospective anytime soon. (Rumor has it that the director was jealous that his classmate received more adulation than himself.)

Hockney has asked, “What finally can compare to the image of another human being?” and while Ansel Adams, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Gehry may disagree, the artist's portraiture provides comprehensive proof to buttress his rhetorical query. It took Hockney for me to understand how my motion-sick mother can go to Disneyland and honestly mean it when she says, “I don't need to go on rides, I'm fine people watching.”

Refusing to accept commissions – “I'm doing them for myself” – Hockney instead turned his pastel pallet and presciently wielded brushes on his friends, family and art exhibitors, often painting double portraits that capture the interpersonal relationship between the figures as well as their own individual personalities.

Mr. and Mrs. Clark, a 7 x 10 foot acrylic painting, limns Hockney's female muse Celia Birtwell and her husband Ossie Clark. Perhaps sensing tension in their apparently consanguine marriage, the artist depicted them divided by an open window; both turned to Hockney instead of one another. They separated shortly after the paint dried.  

Portraits also stands as a testament to superior curating. The exhibit is divided into sections based on Hockney's subjects: Friends, Family, visitors to his art studio and Recent Works. Didactics (wall-texts) beside the paintings give background to the subjects, adding intimacy to the already personal works of the artist. For a nominal fee (after the non-nominal $12 to get into the exhibition), one can rent a headset to append additional dimension to the acrylics.

Many times, it takes a foreigner to remind us of the uniqueness of the world we live in but have become habituated to and forgotten – kind of like that friend who points out why your relationship with your significant other is so (expletive'd) up. Hockney, born in Bradford, England, has spent a good deal of his career in Los Angeles; indeed, an entire section is devoted to picture collages of guests to his L.A. studio.

A stranger in an even stranger land, Hockney painted Beverly Hills Housewife , another over-sized, over-saturated watercolor of art collector Betty Freeman. Stretching across an entire wall of the museum – it's 12 feet long – visitors can take a respite in four colloquial chairs that sit opposite it.

With Housewife's lively colors and expert facial rendering – not to mention the scratched reflections in the house's windows – museum goers feel they're guests in this Beverly Hills housewife's backyard, experiencing the same humanity Hockney clearly feels for his subjects. A bonus: this is one Beverly Hills gathering where you won't have to lie about what you're doing professionally or be forced to receive business cards with more hyphenates (e.g., Writer-Director-Producer-Actor) than notable Beverly Hills housewife: Liz Taylor-Hilton-Wilding-Todd-Fisher-Burton-Burton-Warner-Fortensky.


Now-Sept. 4 @ Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

Mention “combines” in this city, and you'll likely be launched into a confabulation on the latest Brangelina gossip. This summer, however, the marriage of disparate objects will lead you not to Château Marmont for a possible Pitt sighting, but to Grand Avenue where Robert Rauschenberg attaches bricks, scissors, fans and, yes, even that now-familiar goat, to abstract-expressionist canvases of coarse color.

Rauschenberg's mantra could be that of his contemporaries in the design field: the Eames' “Eventually, everything connects.” Using a montage of collision, as in 1955's Interview , Rauschenberg takes everyday objects out of context. Whether it's a baseball mounted above a fork, a brick hanging in front of an Aaron Brother's painting of a beach, or a flaxened photograph of a smiling woman, all these disparate elements find a semi-permanent home in a makeshift closet with a swinging door.

Each Combine is a visualization of kinetic insanity, a three-dimensional Burroughs novel. Interview bursts with this eccentric movement, the open door a drilled hole into some trash collecting, anal retentive's brain. Each object, stripped of its original context, is another potential master's thesis, with the artist himself deconstructing the object of construction par excellence , saying:

“We have ideas about bricks … the fact that it's made of dirt, that it's been through a kiln. Romantic ideas about little brick cottages, or the chimney which is so romantic, or labor – you have to deal with as many of the things as you know about.”

This is just one object in one Combine – now try to visit the other 70 works in the retrospective.

Most of the pieces, to quote that famous Robert Pinsky poem, are “impossible to tell”– this is the reason for so many repeat visitors. Rauschenberg's twin towers – Odalisk and Untitled – are obelisks to gender, personal art history, nationalism, autobiography and sexuality. New signifiers to replace the tired “?” and “?”.

Imagine visiting a pornography site with your firewall turned off, and allowing the pop-up ads to propagate freely with their pin-ups, peep-show curtains, pierced pillows, cocks (the avian type) and a dozen other pictures, colors, textures and stuffed birds. Thankfully, and usual for MOCA, didactics accompany many of the Combines , providing exposition and anecdotes for selected works.  

If Gold Standard, where the artist intransigently answered a Japanese interviewer's questions by attaching objects to a traditional Japanese gold screen, including the questions themselves, is not spirited enough, visit the museum on a Saturday night for one of its Night Vision: MOCA After Dark events. There, musical artists such as the Like, Kaki King and Myles Hendrik will perform.

The galleries and café Patinette stay open until midnight and DJs vibrate the museum with heavy bass. Trying to make sense of a painted goat thread through a tire is difficult; drunken sorority girls, in outfits that would make even the Venus De Milo blush, attempting to explain to the cute tour guide what the artist “meant” is sublime. The marriage of deep cleavage and high art may be Rauschenberg's most ingenious combine yet.


Now-Sept. 10 @ Natural History Museum (NHS)

Sadly, Googling “bog” and “buried people” traditionally returns hits of heinous crimes committed in Florida (and, for some odd reason, Universal Studios Orlando's Web page). Equally disconcerting is the Natural History Museum's Mysterious Bog People – it's one of the few exhibits to warn visitors that its content may be too intense for younger viewers.

The entire exhibit, in fact, plays as a highbrow haunted haus – within the shadowy halls and swampy perfume of the exhibit lie raisin mummies, funerary instruments and the disembodied head of a 16-year-old who tells her story like a sick satire from The Spoon River Anthology .

This holographic head, the same one adorning the banners for the exhibit, is the reconstruction of the Yde Girl murdered/sacrificed/who-really-knows 2,000 years ago. As if the head wasn't minatory enough, Yde's body, replete with the woolen cord with which she was strangled, is interned further in the exhibit.

Luckily – or not, depending on your stomach's disposition – the Northwestern Europe peat bog preserved her body and the six other mummies like a Bel Air surgeon. Included too is Germany's most famous preserved mummy – no, not Hasselhoff (too easy, I know) – but Red Franz a horseman who still retains his Feria'd locks. Franz is the E.U's answer to King Tut.

Twelve-thousand years ago until the end of the 16th century, people lived near the bogs of Northwestern Europe, and like the Los Angeles River, they used the bogs as a dumping ground for their version of McDonald's wrappers and Trader Joe's shopping carts. And – take note Bloods, Crips and Sureños – they also used the nearby water source as part of their ritual killings. Probably.

Archeologists are still unsure as to why these Bog People buried clay pots brimming with gold coins, musical instruments, swords, ladles, shoes and an assortment of other household items. Hence, the “ Mystery ” in the title. Some even believe the bogs were a primitive form of the “toy-in-egg” machine they have at K-Mart– drop in a dead body, get a ceramic jar full of shoes.

At least this was my finding at BSI – Bog Scene Investigation , a laboratory where children and impudent adults can play forensic scientist by examining the hypothetical skeletal remains of bog bodies. Perhaps one can also unearth why anyone would stay in this haunting exhibit any longer than they need to, but children's fascination with mummies may be the most tantalizing mystery of all.  


Now-Sept. 24 @ The Getty

There are two easy ways to see female-eroticism-bordering-on-objectification in Los Angeles: view the latest American Apparel park-bench ad or visit the Getty for Rubens & Brueghel: A Working Friendship . Until MOCA launches an exhibit on Angelino advertising, we'll have to be content with the Getty's exploration of these two 17th century masters.

Rubens gave us that voluptuous euphemism “Rubenesque” in reference to his pear-shaped women with ample busts, Jolie-lips, cherubic cheeks and more alluring curves and crevasses than Mulholland Drive (i.e., the antithesis of the amateur porn, stick figurelike women found in any American Apparel ad).

Brueghel, you know from his bagels. Actually, those are Bruegger's bagels and have little, if anything, to do with the flamboyant Flemish painter. Jan Brueghel the Elder – called Velvet Brueghel for his skill at panting rich and delicate textures – specialized in still-life and landscape subjects. If you've ever seen the Tower of Babel manifested in paint, it was probably Brueghel's.

With Brueghel's adeptness at landscape and composition, and Rubens' equally adroit rendering of bodies, it was popular at the time – before peanut butter and jelly – to say, “We go together like Rubens and Brueghel.” If it wasn't said, it should have been.

The Getty's 27 paintings showcase Bruebens' oils that address the classical Greek Mythology and Biblical subjects that were popular at the time. The key-art for the exhibit is the artists' The Return from War: Mars Disarmed by Venus , an allegory of peace in which the nude goddess of love placates the armored god of war.

It unites Bruegel's still-lifes (proficiently reproduced cannons, rifles, pots, pans and vessels) with Rubens' equally attentive scrutiny of the body (the curvaceous Venus removes Mars' helmet while the bearded god – each hair delicately depicted – gazes transfixed in her eyes, forgetting all the bloodshed he just unleashed on some world).

Unique to the exhibit, and well worth the bandwidth, is the Getty's online interactive exhibit allowing visitors (or those too lazy to visit) the opportunity to see the evolution of the painting through x-rays, infrared photography and “See What Brueghel painted”/“See What Rubens Painted” buttons that highlight each artists' contributions to the work in question.

It's the making-of DVD of some of history's most glorious paintings. It also provides examples of how in the medium dominating Los Angeles (film) two collaborators can work together and create something more lasting than the Farrelly Brothers' latest comedy.

A Working Friendship gives newfound support to that age-old adage of finding a partner that excels where you lack – that Bruegel and Rubens' partnership created this is perhaps the true allegory behind Mars Disarmed by Venus .              


First, you must ask yourself “Which freeway do I want to get stuck in traffic on today?” If you answer the 405, choose the Getty. The 101? It's off to MOCA with you. Mid-Wilshire traffic? LACMA's your destination.

Still, it's a good thing you're not heading to the Los Angeles Zoo—by the time you navigate the 5, the monkeys in their famed exhibit will have evolved into humans. Before deciding on the museum then, check sigalert.com for traffic congestion and decide upon what type of art and architecture – and even food – you'd like to experience.  


Classical Art save for a few special exhibitions

Those that have never visited the Getty will no doubt inform you that the architecture supercedes the classical art itself. Those returning from a trip to the Santa Monica Mountains retreat will say the same – Richard Meier's architecture is so splendidly realized, down to the last placed pebble of travertine, that it's difficult for any other art to compare.

While the 405 does congest beneath you, parking your car for the nominal fee of $7 per car (admission is free) and taking the monorail to this modern Mount Olympus distances you from the now beautiful conurbation backdrop. And other than Yamashiro in the Hollywood Hills, there isn't a better dining view than the Getty's Grand Terrace Café and The Restaurant.  

Still, do yourself a favor and take the architecture tour.


Art in all mediums since the 1940s

Much like the Getty, a visit to this museum in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles –North of Bunker Hill and across the street from Disney Concert Hall (DCH) – should be planned around others' plans. If possible, visit the museum in the afternoon before the Wall Street crowd heads home for the day or in the early evening on non-DCH performance nights. It must be said that the city is much more alive when there's a simultaneous Concert Hall performance and MOCA happening.  

MOCA charges a nominal fee of $5 for students and admission is free every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Only slightly less difficult in “getting” a Rauschenberg is getting a parking space downtown. The meters fill up quicker than the aforementioned sorority girls. Plan on spending an amount equal to museum admission in one of the pay lots.

Unless your name is Eli Broad, it's recommended you grab some cheap eats before visiting any of the museums, though MOCA's Patinette, a Mediterranean café located just outside its entrance, does provide some of the best food – if not the worst view – of any of the museum restaurants.



LACMA's curse and blessing is that it has something for everyone – summer may find King Tut beside Tim Hawkinson or David Hockney feet from ancient Japanese kimono-clasps. In the heart of Wilshire Boulevard and steps from the La Brea Tar Pits, LACMA, like its art, provides equally ecumenical gastronomic offerings: enjoy afternoon tea at Pentimento , cafeteria dining at the Plaza Café, a croissant from a kiosk, or cheap-eats at the nearby Koo-Koo-Roo or Baja Fresh.  

Currently undergoing renovations by architect Renzo Piano, LACMA's final phase of reconstruction will be completed by decade's end. What this means is sporadic closures of certain exhibitions and an equally inventive renovation of parking. Visitors are advised to park at the nearby Page Museum or Petersen Automotive Museum. Better yet, save your money and park at the meters on 6th Street – you'll need that cash as the student price (with ID) for Hockney is $12.

For “non-special exhibitions” (ouch, Ceci N'est pas un Pipe ) admission is $5 for students, or free after 5 p.m. as well as the second Tuesday of each month. Even better – find yourself a child and have them enroll in LACMA's NEX GEN where they can get their family in for free. (Come on, is this any worse than those of us who've thought about handicapping ourselves so we can actually find parking in this city?)