Monday, May 31, 2010

LACMA's Pavilion for Japanese Art

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest art museum west of Chicago and its huge collection is contained in a sprawling, confusingly laid-out group of buildings in central Los Angeles. One of the most interesting LACMA buildings is the Pavilion for Japanese Art designed by architect Bruce Goff (1904-1982) in the late 1970s. The small but unusual building stands out from the boxy, nondescript buildings which comprise the LACMA's original 1964 campus.

Bruce Goff's idiosyncratic buildings, often described as organic architecture, are characterized by expressive shapes, the use of unusual materials, and spatially complex interiors. Despite Goff's lack of formal architectural training, the University of Oklahoma appointed the self-taught architect as a professor and then as the chairman of their School of Architecture in 1943.

The Pavilion's exterior walls are made of translucent fiberglass panels designed to resemble traditional Japanese rice paper shoji screens. The panels filter the sunlight allowing artwork to be safely illuminated by soft, natural light.

The interior, with its carpeted walls, muted beige color scheme, weird organic foamy shapes, and multi-story spiral gallery, has the feeling of a 1970s Bond villain's lair. However, despite their odd layout and extremely dated decor, the interior spaces work well as elegant and peaceful galleries.

On the Pavilion's roof is an odd structure comprised of supporting cables and tusk-like objects that reference the fossils from the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits. The Tar Pits are an active archeological site next to the LACMA containing skeletons of animals from the last Ice Age including mastodons, mammoths, camels, bison, and saber-tooth tigers who fell into the tar pits tens of thousands of years ago. Skeletons recovered from the pits are on view at the Page Museum next to the LACMA.

The LACMA website and the Page Museum website have more info about visiting the museums.

View LACMA in a larger map


  1. Bruce Goff is god!!!

  2. This is my favorite pavilion at LACMA. It was so intimate and the artwork was beautifully presented.

  3. Do you you have, or will, take an art and architecture tour or our art in the garden tour at the Central Library!! Please join us at 1230pm M-F or 11 am or 2pm on Saturdays. The garden tour is saturdays only at 1230pm For more information, write docents@lapl.or or view the web site at LOVE your site and absolutely agree about LACMA's Japanese Pavilion!