LACMA’s Loneliest Galleries

Museums may be perceived as slowly evolving creatures, but in recent years LACMA has expanded its campus, developed its collections, and received many new acquisitions. I’ve wondered if all this growth has left some of our older galleries undervisited. They are the underdog galleries, and I was determined to find them.

Why would I want to seek out the least-visited areas of the museum? Because I believe that sometimes the best museum experiences are self-driven, isolated and solitary, where you can examine both the art and how you relate to it without being disturbed or distracted. A museum offers a variety of experiences; some are easily revealed, while others are hidden just out of sight.

To start, I turned to LACMA’s statistical data, but it was of little use as it focused primarily on traveling shows. So my mission was to take a daytime excursion through the galleries during peak hours in search of visitors, or in this case, lack thereof. The result? There were two galleries that were clearly the loneliest. Both are at the ultimate extremes of the campus; one at its highest point and the other at its lowest.

The runner up was a small space in the Japanese Pavilion, tucked almost underneath the building. This cove of sorts, where scrolls are often displayed, is at the end of the building’s long spiral. The gallery does benefit from residing near the restrooms, so occasionally I’ve seen people close by waiting for their significant others to reemerge. But the winner, if you can call it that, is in the Ahmanson Building.


To get there, you must go to the fourth floor, and walk all the way to the back—past the Islamic tiles and fragile glasswork, through the green and brownish rooms filled with ancient drums, pottery, and other South and Southeast Asian pieces, to the last deep blue Himalayan gallery, crammed with casework. The gallery is actually brimming with art, a treasure trove of intricate metalwork and objects fills the room, as sculptures hover above, waiting patiently, as if ready to spring to life at the sight of a visitor.

Paul Wehby, Senior Graphic Designer

3 Responses to LACMA’s Loneliest Galleries

  1. Evan says:

    The Ahmanson Building as a whole is really sadly under-visited. I usually spend minutes staring at these giant doorways from Assyria (I believe) and marveling at the distance in time and space from when they stood as part of a palace, to me looking at them in a museum…and people usually walk right past them, looking for a bathroom.

  2. Gerald says:

    The problem with the Ahmanson is that you can’t see into the third and fourth floor. LACMA needs to build a grand staircase going up from the second floor to the third and from the third to the floor. When you walk into the Ahmanson from BP Grand Entrance you see the spider, when you walk underneath the spider you see the photography gallery, when you walk up the steps you see German art on one end and arts and crafts on the other. And as you move in either direction you see even more art that pulls you in either direction. But you can’t see into the third and fourth floor and if you take the elevator, what greets you when the doors open is an empty wall. Even the materials you receive when you purchase a ticket don’t point you to visit the third and fourth floor. And how is it that Rodin and Monet are between Egyptian, classical paintings, and glass works and not with impressionist and post-impressionist works? Why have rooms that have four doors where are is in the corners, not the center? The Japanese building suffers from similar issues of access.

  3. Deborah W. says:

    An unfortunate aspect of architect William Pereira’s design in the early 1960s for LACMA was extending a good portion of the museum’s floor space to a third and fourth floor. Most major museums throughout the world have virtually all their square footage confined to a main level and one level above that. But that easier-to-navigate concept was upended in the 1960s. And that was true to an even greater degree since the 3rd and 4th levels of the Ahmanson building originally represented a much larger percentage of the total floor space of the museum.

    More recently, matters haven’t been helped by the continuing stop-and-start, inside-and-outside layout of the museum, with the Japanese Pavilion physically separated from gallery space to the west, the new Broad building separated from gallery space to the east, the Hammer building separated from the Ahmanson, the Bing building separated from the Hammer and the Ahmanson, and the former Robert Anderson building (and, by the way, why was that donor’s name removed in the first place?) separated from gallery space to the north and west.

    And, of course, there is the former May Co building that sits all alone, way over towards Fairfax—but that’s excusable since that building was never designed to be a part of LACMA to begin with.

    Moreover, the new special exhibitions building isn’t going to help matters, since that building will be separate from the new Broad building, which, in turn, is separate from…and here we go all over again!

    All of this discontinuity has been exacerbated by LACMA’s inability to raise enough money to fill in the gaps, to refine and complete the spaces between the various buildings, particularly the former (and originally fully outdoor) plaza in the middle of the Ahmanson, Hammer and, now, American art wings.

    With that in mind, the original idea in the 1990s to tear everything down and start from scratch becomes even more of a stretch (or more absurd) since, again, LACMA already has faced enough of a struggle in generating adequate funds to make the existing campus more cohesive, efficient and attractive, much less outright imposing and impressive.

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