When I found out I would be traveling back to Los Angeles for the first time in 2 years I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and within an hour of landing at LAX I had arrived at my own personal mecca, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Without hesitation, I headed past Chris Burden’s outdoor installation of street lamps and turned right. I took my time walking up the steps the same way you might savor the last moments before getting coffee with a former flame, and, upon arriving in the German Expressionist’s gallery, an overwhelming feeling of completeness rushed over me.
Within this space is my favorite oil painting of all time. This is not to say there haven’t been other contenders for this title, but “The Orator” by Magnus Zeller has such energy, anxiety, and rapturous movement that, even today, the thought of those brush strokes makes my heart skip a beat.
After visiting with Mr. Zeller I traveled past the outdoor tar pits and into the Pavilion of Japanese art. The architecture of this building has always thrown me a bit, as the rest of LACMA has a semi-traditional feel with each room having four corners and most walls being white.
Once you step into the pavilion, the rules change; the floor slowly sinks in a cyclical pattern that force you to move smoothly and slowly around the contemporary kimonos on display, including a silk kimono with a Matisse-inspired design.
At this point my phone buzzed, and although reluctant to take my eyes off the complicated textiles I glanced down to see a text alerting me that it was time to enter ‘Ganzfeld’ by James Turrell.
What happened next can only be described as surrealistic. I walked from the pavilion, past the German expressionist gallery, down the steps, across the outside concrete that was warm from the sun, and into a room that was cold, dark, and black.
The silence was unnerving since just moments before I was listening to the shouts and giggles of tourists from all over the world, and suddenly without warning I was plunged into an environment that felt more like a house of worship than a museum.
The guard quietly asked me to take off my shoes, and handed me booties that looked like something out of ‘Breaking Bad’. I sat quietly contemplating what would come next and, within a few moments, I knew.
The installation itself is just a set of white steps in the design of a Mayan pyramid that lead to a white room with soft curved edges that had light emanating from the front and back. However, Wassily Kandinsky was spot on when he said, “Color hides a power still unknown but real, which acts on every part of the human body”.
Trudging up the pyramid to enter the room which was now glowing orange I noted there were four other people who were standing as still as statues but had constantly changing facial expressions as if they were arguing with the emotions that these slowly changing color fields were forcing upon them.
I started into the void of color and light and when it became too much I shut my eyes, only to realize even then I saw a contrasting color. No amount of words can describe the overwhelming emotional and physical response that results from having a piece of art wrapped around you like a warm hug, but I know now that I will wait much longer than an hour and a half to experience it all again.
Eventually I tore myself away, put on my shoes, and walked out the door. The sun was just as high and the sky was just as clear, but something had changed inside of me.
I looked down at my phone one more time in order to check back into reality and, sure enough, over four hours had passed since I had arrived. Suddenly I recognized that my stomach was going to triumph over my typically insatiable curiosity, and just as quickly as it had started my LACMA adventure had come to a close.