Free at Last


Recent news and developments coming from art museums in Westwood Village warm my heart. First, let's start by raising a toast to The Fowler Museum at UCLA, which celebrates its 50th birthday. In a city as young as LA, a 50th birthday is quite the milestone. Last week, The Fowler threw a festive, bubbly party, but even when it was over, the bubbles remained -artistic bubbles that is. I am talking about several thousands of inflatable beach-ball globes that spill from the museum's roof just as the visitors approach the entrance.


And then, in the museum courtyard, things really become topsy-turvy. Maximo Gonzalez, Argentinian artist based in Mexico City, was commissioned to create an installation consisting of thousands of such balls -bouncing in the fountain, floating like champagne bubbles in the air, and ultimately transforming the whole space, visually speaking, into a slightly tipsy place that turns all the adults into giddy children.


The Fowler Museum collections consist of more than 150,000 works of art representing diverse cultures from Africa, Asia, Native and Latin America, and the Pacific. And many of its artifacts will simply stop you in your tracks the very moment you look at them and they stare right back at you. If you haven't visited The Fowler recently, treat yourself to an adventure. It's a great place to bring kids, especially considering the fact that it won't cost you a dime. Yes, the admission is free.


Several months ago, I said in my program that major LA museums should be more generous by offering free admission to the public. After all, revenue from admission fees account for a very small percentage of museums' annual budget. There is already a number of small and medium sized LA museums that provide free access to their collections. Among them: The Fowler at UCLA, The USC Fisher Museum of Art, The California African American Museum, and The Santa Monica Museum of Art.


The most recent news on this front comes from UCLA's Hammer Museum, which announced that, thanks to the generous donations from Erika J. Glazer and Brenda R. Potter, the museum will be entirely free to the public beginning February of 2014. One hopes that our other museums will continue this trend.

Not to be outdone, The Broad Museum, issued an announcement that, when it opens its doors in late 2014 on Grand Ave, its admission will also be free for everyone. It's definitely great news, though for the troubled MOCA across the street, it will create additional competition.


Now, let me ask you a question: have you recently strolled along Westwood Boulevard near UCLA? Have you noticed how many storefronts stare at you with empty windows? In the late 70's and early 80's, Westwood Village was a thriving, busy place with dozens of movie theaters, bookstores, restaurants, and high-end shops, but starting in the 90's, many of them started to disappear. So, The Hammer Museum has come up with an interesting project to breathe some art and energy back into its neighborhood. From November 1 to November 24, a number of empty storefronts along Westwood Boulevard will be given to LA artisans and craftspeople to show and to sell their art. Who knows, it might be the beginning of a cultural Renaissance for this lovely and charming but slightly sleepy neighborhood. Let's wait and see...


Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.