Pasadena is one of the most popular destinations in California thanks to its old Hollywood charm, its thriving food and nightlife scene, and dynamic town center. However, Pasadena also has a diverse and flourishing arts scene which many visitors are not aware of.
To get the most out of your trip to Pasadena, check out some of the world-famous galleries, museums, and exhibitions which are clustered in this historic LA neighborhood.
The Huntington Library
No trip to Pasadena is complete without visiting the Huntington Library. The name is something of a misnomer because the Huntington Library is so much more than a library. The estate features several temporary and permanent art exhibitions which include the work of world-renowned artists.
You can find portraits, landscapes, sculptures, and objet d’art in the Huntington Art Gallery, Scott Galleries of American Art, the botanical conservatory, and the Library Exhibition Hall. The Huntington Library has something for everyone, and for all ages and there are a series of cafés and restaurants to visit in between trips to galleries and gardens.
Just a short drive from Pasadena, The Broad in downtown Los Angeles should also be regarded as a must-visit venue for art lovers when staying in the area. The museum features exciting and dynamic contemporary art from the 1950s to the present and works to engage audiences by crafting shocking, provoking, and inspiring collections.
Of note is the work of Jordan Wolfson which has previously been featured at The Broad. Wolfson is a multimedia artist whose work uses a series of pop culture references including advertising, documentaries, and music videos to deliver social and cultural commentaries on our current milieu.
His animatronic female dancer (Female figure), 2014, gathered international attention and acclaim. The robot dances around a room with mirrored walls to a soundtrack of pop songs, some of which have been altered by Wolfson himself. The robot appears to be the idealized female form – beautiful, slim, and blond, except for her face which is covered by a witch mask. Truly, this is an exhibit worth seeing in person.
Norton Simon Museum
The Norton Simon Museum, previously known as the Pasadena Art Institute, is another must-see for anyone visiting Pasadena. The Museum houses one of the world’s biggest and most impressive private collections. The industrialist Norton Simon amassed an extensive collection of art over 30 years. During his time as an art collector, Simon bought works from around the world and throughout time – including pieces dating back two thousand years.
The Norton Simon Museum has an impressive permanent collection including a sculpture garden with a series of Rodin replications. Right now, the Unseen Picasso exhibition is drawing favorable reviews and has seen a huge influx of visitors. Along with the Picasso exhibition, the Museum is also featuring the work of renowned expressionist Paul Gauguin.
The Museum has taken impressive steps to make the work featured at the museum more accessible to the public. Currently about 40% of the collection – which numbers 12,000 pieces – is included online at the Norton Simon Museum website. Famous artists including Goya, Degas, Vuillard, Fragonard, Rembrandt, and Picasso are included in the collected and specially highlighted through the online collections.
Public art, murals, and sculptures
One of the best things about Pasadena is undeniably its gorgeous weather – especially if you are from out of town. As a result, you may not want to spend your day inside a cool, air-conditioned space and you might instead want to soak up some rays outside while enjoying your iced coffee.
Thankfully, Pasadena has a thriving public art scene including sculpture parks, murals, and ornamental gardens. The most famous mural in Pasadena is the Keith Haring Mural located at the Art Centre’s Hillside Campus; this vibrant mural features Haring’s famous pop art, graffiti-inspired work. Haring was invited to create the mural as a tribute to fellow artists in the Pasadena community who had passed away due to AIDs and AIDs-related complications. Haring himself later passed away due to AIDs-related complications, adding gravitas to this dynamic piece.
If you are more interested in sculptures, you will find a series of Auguste Rodin sculptures at the Norton Simon Museum including the famous The Thinker. The Pasadena Robinson Memorial is an eye-catching tribute to the two Robinson brothers, who were American athletes and Pasadena residents.
Also to be found through Pasadena is the tongue in cheek Fork in the Road at St. John Avenue and Bellefontaine Street, the Kneeling Man with Hammer in the historic Smith Alley, Enduring Heroes in Defenders Park, and the Countdown Leader on South Marengo Avenue. Ultimately, Pasadena is packed with amazing art from all around the world and from every artistic style and stylistic era.