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California Art Installations You Have to See
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California Art Installations You Have to See

Offering countless options to experience art, California has no shortage of creative masterpieces. Don't miss these famous art installations

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7 min read

October 10, 2020

 
Taking shape in mind-blowing forms, art truly changes our perception and affects parts of our brain we didn’t know existed. Offering countless options to experience art, the Golden State has no shortage of creative masterpieces. A casual stroll on a random street will expose you to imaginative murals, while California's free galleries will showcase inventive sculptures and paintings. But sometimes, instead of visiting traditional venues to view artworks, you feel the need to experience them in a different environment to awaken your senses. To make things easier for you, we’ve compiled a list of the most unique and famous California art installations you have to see.
 
Field of Light at Sensorio
Field of Light at Sensorio features a mesmerizing 15-acre exhibit of shimmering lights. Photo courtesy of Paso Robles Press.

Location: 4380 CA-46, Paso Robles

Known for producing large immersive, site-specific artwork, artist Bruce Munro didn’t disappoint when he premiered his largest art installation yet—Field of Light at Sensorio. It embodies Munro’s experience while journeying to Uluru through the Simpson Desert in central Australia. Feeling an irresistible connection with the desert landscape, he was inspired to create an illuminated field of stems that burst into bloom at dusk under a sky full of stars.

Comprising more than 58,000 stemmed spheres lit by fiber optics, the 15-acre exhibit gradually changes color, gently igniting the landscape with shimmering lights. The impressive, large-scale California art installation is powered by solar energy. Captivating visitors from everywhere, the "field of lights" in Paso Robles allows people to feel the piece rather than view it.

Etherea

Edoardo Tresoldi's Etherea is one of the masterpieces of the modern world. Photo courtesy of Edoardo Tresoldi.

Location: Intersection of Cesar Chavez Street and 6th Street, Coachella

Specifically conceived for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Etherea was created by Italian artist Edoardo Tresoldi. The art installation is inspired by Neoclassical and Baroque architecture and is over 50 feet tall. Contemplate the meaning of life as you follow the path leading you through the three structures. Etherea was created using transparent wire mesh, which creates an optical effect for the eyes to feast on. Composed of three imposing buildings, the structures look identical to each other but form multiple visually pleasing dimensions. The California art installation uses the transparency of mesh with industrial materials to narrate a dialogue between art and the world. 

Urban Light at LACMA

No visit to Los Angeles is complete without seeing the city's unofficial symbol: Urban Light at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

One of the most iconic and photogenic places in Los Angeles, Urban Light is a large-scale art installation created by Chris Burden. The astounding outdoor assemblage consists of 202 restored street lamps dating back to the 1920s and 1930s. Throughout the years, Burden collected antique street lamps of 16 different models, which resulted in the creation of L.A.’s unofficial symbol. The most ornate design is the Broadway Rose—decorated with an artichoke and rosebuds and represented by six lamps in the art installation. Located in one of L.A.’s best art museums, the outdoor exhibit is an incredible California landmark that’s turned on each day at dusk and turned off at dawn according to an astronomical timer.  

Sun God Statue

This unique, vivid statue and San Diego icon is well worth visiting. Photo courtesy of STUART COLLECTION.

Location: The University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Sun God was the first art installation of the Stuart Collection of public art projects. Created by French-American sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, the sculpture is a 14-foot bird placed atop a 15-foot concrete arch in a grassy area of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). The artwork is an exaggerated Mother Earth sculpture, displaying an explosion of vivid colors. Over the years, Sun God became a UCSD landmark and is now frequently decorated with whimsical accessories—it has worn giant sunglasses, a cap and gown, and a nest of hay with eggs. The sculpture is so loved by the university students that they even started the annual springtime Sun God Festival in 1984. It's a notable feature of UCSD and is embraced as a campus character.

Triforium

Explore the kinetic tower sculpture with lighted Venetian glass prisms on your next visit to L.A.

Location: Civic Center, Fletcher Bowron Square, Los Angeles

The world's first public sculpture to integrate light and sound by use of a computer is Triforium. Created by artist Joseph Young, the art installation is a 60-foot, 60-ton concrete kinetic tower sculpture with lighted Venetian glass prisms and a programmed sound system. Located at Fletcher Bowron Square, the artwork was commissioned by architect Robert Stockwell and was expected to serve as both a focal point and a symbol. Young also hoped to install laser beams shooting into space to make it the world’s first astronomical beacon, but unfortunately, he wasn’t able to achieve it. However, that didn’t stop the famous art installation from becoming a respected work of art. Triforium combines science, music, and art into a unified composition.

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Desert Christ Park

Location: 56200 Sunnyslope Drive, Yucca Valley

Desert Christ Park is a biblical sculpture garden that was created by Frank Antone Martin in 1951. With the dream of establishing a Christian-themed park as a light for world peace, Martin's idea to design statues out of steel-reinforced concrete came to life. The earliest art installation at the park was a 10-foot, 5-ton plaster and steel statue of Christ dubbed “the unwanted Christ.” Over the course of 10 years, Martin erected more than 35 biblical statues on the 3.5-acre land, including a multiple-story, 125-ton façade depicting The Last Supper.

Years of neglect and an earthquake in 1992 took its toll on Desert Christ Park, but restoration works have brought it back to its golden era. A focal point of the Yucca Valley, the Christian art installations provide hope, prayer, and beauty to the region. 

Whammock!

Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam's one of the most vibrant and catchy textile sculptures Whammock! in San Diego. Photo courtesy of the New Children's Museum.

Location: The New Children’s Museum, 200 West Island Avenue, San Diego

Art installations aren’t just for adults—children should discover impressive masterpieces at an early age. A fiber artist residing in both Canada and Japan, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam crocheted a visually stimulating array of bright, hand-dyed, nylon ropes into a large-scale, three-dimensional, climbable sculpture.

Inspired by the children who climbed atop these textile sculptures, MacAdam then designed the masterpiece Whammock!, which is displayed at the New Children’s Museum. The famous art installation is an interactive textile environment of looped hexagons, open pockets, and hanging pendulums. Almost entirely handmade, the playscape structure has eight entry holes, 40 miles of braided nylon, and five hanging pendulums. It took around 3,600 hours to construct.

One of three in the United States, Whammock! lets children move from one pocket to another until reaching a colorful space where they can run, slide, bounce, and rest. Simulating the sensation of floating in a sea, the art installation stimulates children’s brains, improving their movement and balance. 

Los Angeles Opens Its Heart of Compassion

Location: 3150 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

Koreatown is home to one of the most stunning suspended sculptures: Los Angeles Opens Its Heart of Compassion. The three-dimensional sculpture is made of 100 petal-like arrangements of a lotus flower with a large metallic screen behind it. Made of laser-cut aluminum, the lotus is illuminated with intense white light.

With a captivating light show of changing colors, the California art installation is found on one of the most trafficked corners of Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of L.A. Cliff Garten, the mastermind behind the sculpture, envisioned his artwork to articulate the past, present, and future of the district in a single piece. Dramatically signifying the heritage of Koreatown with contemporary materials, the masterpiece is an urban game-changer for the area.  

The Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Art

Visit this open-air desert museum to experience an outstanding collection of folk art. Photo courtesy of Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum.

Location: 62975 Blair Lane, Joshua Tree

A few miles away from Joshua Tree National Park lies the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Art, one of the most mysterious attractions in California. The wide-open desert space was perfect for Noah Purifoy to create larger-than-life art installations. Establishing the desert museum in 1989, the African-American visual artist and sculptor wasted no time in creating impressive pieces, including large-scale assemblages and environmental sculptures. The 10 acres of open land were soon filled with over 100 works of art built from discarded items.

Drawing people of different interests, the desert art museum has something for everyone—a theater for drama lovers, mysterious rooms for people seeking thrills, and an enigmatic air hangar-looking piece with a chain and padlocked door.  However, the most famous art installations here are the Grecian-esque ruins with impeccable details and a wooden wall balancing bicycles. The peculiarity of this open-air museum makes you wonder how Purifoy came up with his imaginative creations. 

Galleta Meadows 

Discover over 130 large metal art sculptures on your desert adventure in Borrego Springs.

Location: 1700-1844 Borrego Springs Road, Borrego Springs

Featuring over a hundred Jurassic Park-esque metal sculptures, Galleta Meadows is a privately-owned desert estate located on the side of a highway. The mastermind behind the steel-welded desert artworks is Ricardo Breceda; the sheer creativity of each of his pieces is priceless. Galleta Meadows' owner Dennis Avery commissioned the artist to create “free-standing art” for the public to experience.

Bringing together various themes, Breceda erected numerous sculptures of prehistoric animals like dinosaurs, mammoths, raptors, and saber-toothed tigers. The most impressive artwork here is the 350-foot-tall dragon. Giving the illusion of snaking into and over the desert sand, the California art installation must be seen in person to truly appreciate its grandness. Other random sculptures include a Jeep and a Spanish missionary with his dog. With nobody expecting to find such extraordinary sculptures along the desert roads, Galleta Meadows is an accidental delight. 

Dying to visit art galleries in San Francisco? Here are our top choices.

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