I like the idea of going to museums. But honestly, I can only take my cultural excursions in small doses (1 1/2hrs tops). And although I'm all for supporting the arts, if I'm only going to be there for less than two hours and my schedule permits it, why not nurture my artistic side at no extra cost by visiting the museum during their freebie hours?
My whirlwind brush with zero-cost culture included trips to both the MOCA and LACMA within one week. An out of town guest wanted to check out downtown MOCA's Rauschenberg: Combines exhibit (which just ended on Sept. 4th). The MOCA keeps kinda weird hours (closed Tues. and Wed.) but if you head there on Thursday nights, it's free after 5pm (and open til 8pm). The downside is parking; street parking is next to impossible so the museum recommends parking at the Walt Disney Concert Hall parking garage on Lower Grand Ave ($8 for 3hrs with vaildation) but if you're willing to walk a block, there's a no-hassle lot on the corner of 2nd/Olive for $6 flat.
To the untrained eye (mine), Rauschenberg: Combine's exhibit was all about, uh, combining as much stuff onto the canvas as possible. His collages with pants, taxidermied bald eagles and pieces of wire glued onto large canvases and all slicked thick with oil paints wasn't really my thing but the MOCA's permanent collection including pieces by Jackson Pollack (below), Roy Lichtenstein and whoever convinced the artsy types that blank canvases were high-brow (also below) are worth checking out on their own regardless of the headlining temporary exhibit going on at the time.
A few days later, I visited the LACMA on Labor Day (which is free after 5pm every day). We skipped the David Hockney portraits exhibit (which has a separate un-free admission fee) and headed to LACMA's permanent collection. The Ahmanson Building houses classical art (Rembrandt, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin) as well as ancient Egyptian tomb artifacts, hundreds-old European vases and the like.
The Modern and Contemporary Art building contains colorful works by Picasso, Pollack, Ruscha, DuChamp and Magritte--as well as a beautiful 3rd story balcony view of the sunset over the Hollywood hills.
However, the highlight was the Consider This... Exhibit in the LACMA West building (yes, it's technically LACMA's 'children's museum' but the highly interactive, highly thought-provoking exhibit was highly entertaining for all ages). Designed by artist Barbara Kruger (famous for her artistic slogans juxtaposed against provocative images) the exhibit--which runs through January '07--includes pithy quotes lining the walls ('Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy'-Henry Mencken, 'How Much Easier is Self-Sacrifice than Self-Realization!'-Eric Hoffer) and installations with sharpies inviting visitors to become part of the exhibit by adding their mark on certain art pieces or adding to the wall of anwers to questions such as "what is important to you right now?".
With easy street parking and convenient, late-night free hours, it's definitely worth popping into LACMA after work hours to check out the exhibits or even just to enjoy the peaceful dusky sunset views from the museum balcony.
free Thursdays after 5pm
free everyday after 5pm
Natural History Museum
free first Tuesdays of the month
For those who have more specialized artistic interests, the following niche museums are participating in National Museum Day on September 30th, offering free admission all day:
California Science Center, Craft and Folk Museum, Museum of Neon Art and last but certainly not the least, The Bunny Museum.