LACMA and the La Brae Tar Pits


I left the Hollywood History tour a little tired, but decided to soldier on via an LA Metro bus to see LACMA and the La Brae Tar Pits next door. I should point out in advance I didn’t pay to enter either museum; LACMA’s main gallery is currently being rebuilt, and the La Brae Tar Pits museum is largely aimed at kids from what I understand.

The first exhibit I encountered at LACMA’s grounds is an outdoor piece called Levitated Mass. It’s an enormous boulder held in place with bolts over a subterranean concrete ramp. Seems simple enough, but due to a mishap with the original boulder the artist had selected, it took several decades to complete.


The other big installation outdoors at LACMA is Urban Light, a series of outdoor light posts you might find lining a street, except all bunched up in close-knit grid.

It is kind of a headtrip to wander through this and see standard urban street furniture intentionally misused, though the main attraction seems to be getting one’s photo taken among the light posts.


A more traditional sculpture garden off to the side features various sculptures, currently focusing on “The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness” by Zak Ové .

This series of statues feature a semi-faceless series of nearly identical statues that look abstract yet somehow of African descent. I was surprised to see it again as this particular work was recently exhibited at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco.

Unlike the San Francisco version of the exhibit, LACMA’s is enclosed on three sides by a fence with a security guard out front. This changed the meaning completely for me — as a white man — particularly since the security guard was a black man. I don’t know what more to say here other than art can be powerful when the context is shifted.


While trying to find the restrooms I wandered through a massive, two story tall geometric sculpture called “Smoke.” From ground level it felt intimidating, but when I wandered up the stairs and looked down upon it, it seemed much less interesting.

It’s amazing what perspective can do with large scale art installations.

La Brae Tar Pits

On the other side of the block there’s the La Brae Tar Pits, an excavation site where various fossil remains were dredged up back in the day.

Today the tar pits are known for their absurd recreations of… woolly mammoths, I guess? They look like some embarrassing 1950’s highway attraction like the “world’s largest ball of twine” or whatever.

The tar pits themselves smell like tar, similar to when a building is getting a new tar roof. It’s not very pleasant.

I’ll admit part of the reason I went over there was to see if I could spot LA puppeteer, actor, artist, and singer David Liebe Hart — an oddball local character who’s known for hanging out there. Unfortunately for me he was nowhere to be found.

The LA Metro Purple Line extension is being built a block down the street, and since it’s located so close to the tar pits the excavation is a slow process with paleontologists ensuring our natural heritage is preserved. As such I had to take a very crowded Metro Rapid bus back downtown instead of the yet to open subway.