Los Angeles has no shortage of art museums. Being a total art nerd, I pride myself on having attended most of them. It’s been a few years since I visited the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. But after spending only one short afternoon, I begin to wonder, what took me so long to come back?
What I love about the Norton Simon Museum is it’s manageable size. Some art museums’ collections are so vast you don’t know where to begin and feel overwhelmed. You wind up running around trying to see everything and never get adequate time to spend simply sitting and staring at some of your favorite pieces.
It’s nice having friends in the art world. A fellow artist and art nerd bestie works at a large museum here in LA and gets some cool perks with her job. One of which is free admission for her and a guest to attend a select group of sister museums. The Norton Simon is thankfully on that list. So after a delicious brunch at Mike & Anne’s, complete with mimosa starter and espresso finisher we head out to the museum.
Norton Simon has a wide variety of European art on display from the 14th century through the 19th century. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling to stand in front of a piece of art created in the 14th century. To imagine that all these years later something tangible that another person created has lasted this long . The practical side of me thinks about the restoration process some of these older pieces must have endured. While the romantic side of me thinks of all the homes, cathedrals, and museums it resided in before it ended up here in Los Angeles. I’m taken aback at the emotional response I feel for the artist who created the piece so long ago with no understanding that it would now be encased in glass and cherished hundreds of years later.
There is a very interesting exhibition on the accidental discovery of Prussian Blue, (along with other synthetic blue paints) and how it opened up new possibilities in artistic expression. You can read more about it here.
The 19th century European art collection is one of the most popular with visitors. It contains the most significant collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in Southern California. I took in classics from Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Gaughin, Monet and many others. These are the paintings you were most likely shown in school, but seeing them in person is a very different experience. I am always shocked when I see some of these priceless pieces on display, and not behind glass. You get to appreciate the texture of every brush stroke without the glare of security glass getting in the way. I was blown away by the vast number of sculptures and paintings by Degas. There is almost one entire room dedicated solely to Degas. If he is one of your favorite artists, you have to visit the Norton Simon Museum.
Although it was more than 90 degrees outside, I had to brave a trip into the gorgeous sculpture garden. Surrounding a small pond are many bronze sculptures from Maillol, Brancusi and more. It’s a lovely loop through a quiet garden setting. There is also a garden cafe on site for a quick bite or beverage.
As a contemporary artist myself, I have a soft spot in my heart for modern art. Yes sometimes it’s strange and weirdly simple. Other times it’s chaotic and elementary. But there is always a flourish of emotion and a strong voice behind each piece. I appreciate a good still life bowl of cherries the same way I do an untitled collection of line work. It’s here that I had the opportunity to appreciate works by my favorite artist Wassily Kandinsky. Color and line affect each of us in a different way. Our response is based on our past experiences, current mood and how our brain makes pictures out of a group of symbols. I love Kandinsky because each person sees something different. I notice different nuances each time I revisit one of his works. I have his Composition No. 6 hanging over my bed and although I wake up to it’s reflection in my mirror each morning, I often see images I hadn’t noticed before.
There was an impressive group of large scale paintings. Paintings that take up an entire wall. Paintings that make me covet a studio space big enough to creative powerful images of immense size. The impact is undeniable even if you’re not a fan of the subject matter.
A quick stop at the Museum Store before leaving is a must. I’m a sucker for post card size keepsakes of the paintings on view. The Norton Simon Museum shop has racks and racks of post cards, calendars, and posters of most of their collection. There is also an array of art books, including a wonderful children’s section. I love the doodle books. They are fun for artists of all ages. Reminding you that art can be silly and inspiration comes from everywhere.
Walking back to the parking lot you’re greeted by the quiet stoicism of Rodin’s sculptures. Including The Thinker, who is prominently on display. I love how the Norton Simon Museum allows it’s collection to bleed outside of it’s walls. Enveloping it’s visitors in art every step of the way. I definitely recommend visiting the Norton Simon Museum. Even if you don’t have a free hook-up for the entrance fee, it’s a modest $12 to view all these spectacular works. Plus children under 18, along with students and military with proper ID get in for free!