David and I recently returned from an exhilarating two days in Los Angeles. Our trip was part of an offsite board meeting for the Museum of Modern Art and our time was spent visiting art museums and artist studios, touring private collections, and deepening our friendships with fellow MoMA trustees. I’ve always been drawn to the vibrant energy of Los Angeles, but seeing the city through such an artistic lens brought it to life in a whole new light.

Highlights from our trip included:

The Broad Museum

We visited The Broad Museum which houses the art that philanthropists, Eli and Edythe Broad, have collected over the years. The museum is free to the public and encourages schools to participate in visual literacy programs, deepening students’ sense of observation and ideation and creating conversations about the arts.

via Susan Rockefeller

via Susan Rockefeller

One of my favorite pieces that we saw at The Broad was Yayoi Kusama‘s Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls Of Millions Of Light Years Away (2013). I was transfixed by her LED lights, the dark room, and sense of expansiveness and quietude in space.

Infinity Room via Susan Rockefeller

Infinity Room via Susan Rockefeller

Kusama is a self-proclaimed obsessional artist searching for both infinitude and oblivion. Her work is brilliant. I loved the feeling of being transported into a sense of deep space, wonder, and delight. I felt as if I were floating in an intimate, immersive universe while simultaneously connected to the beginning of time. It was a transformative experience. I find that these sorts of installations are all the more important in this age of virtual reality and AI. It was refreshing to be in a space that felt as expansive as virtual reality without having to wear the goggles!

Next, we viewed Takashi Murakami’s The Land Of The Dead, Stepping On The Tail Of A Rainbow. What an astounding work of art. At eighty-two feet long, it’s his biggest piece to date. Alive with vivid colors and almost cartoonish depictions, it explores the vast suffering of Japanese people through a history of natural disasters.


Takashi Murakami artwork via Susan Rockefeller

Ghana-born, El Anatsui’sRed Block truly wowed me. Over thirteen thousand bottle caps, mainly from rum and alcohol caps, were recycled and reused for this installation sculpture. From afar, the piece looked like a shimmery tapestry, but upon upon closer inspection it was more metallic, vibrant, obsessively crafted and beautiful. In his work, Anatsui explores the influence of the Colonial period in Africa on the current problems that her people face including: alcoholism, pervasive poverty, and the impact of global markets on the continent’s economies. I admire how Anatsui integrates the tradition of weaving, which was part of his family heritage, with the use of recycled materials. The result is both primitive and thoroughly modern.

Hauser & Wirth

The next day, we made our way to Hauser & Wirth, an international gallery devoted to modern and contemporary art with spaces in Zurich, London, New York, Somerset, and Los Angeles. The gallery represents over sixty established and emerging artists, and is considered one of the most influential spaces for contemporary art and thought. Here, we saw a Phyllida Barlow installation.

Barlow is best known for her colossal sculptural projects and for using inexpensive materials such as plywood, cardboard, plaster, cement, fabric and paint to create her sculptures. She’s curious about the abstract qualities of time, weight, balance, collapse and fatigue. Her hanging balls of multicolored fabric dangle in a raw space, providing both a sense of fun and a pause in which to question what makes art, art. There was something riveting about both the craftsmanship and the seemingly irresistible urge to make something beautiful out of discarded materials. Barlow will represent England for the Venice Biennale this year.

Hauser & Wirth via Susan Rockefeller

Dinner with Mike Ovitz and Tamara Mellon

We spent one evening dining with two hundred other guests at Mike Ovitz’s and Tamara Mellon‘s beautiful home in Beverly Hills. Designed by architect Michael Maltzan, the home took years to build and features a perforated steel skin, wrapping three interconnected boxes that descended along the property.


Tara Donovan artwork via Susan Rockefeller

One of my favorite artists on display in their home was Tara Donovan. I love her button sculpture which reminded me of coral. Tara is known for her site specific art and she uses everyday materials to create organic sculptures—another almost obsessive artist applying generative repetition of organic forms.

Michael and Tamara also had a number of Alfred Jensen’s goopy yummy paintings which were beautifully painted in grids and patterns with thick impasto. I was ready for dinner when I looked at his paintings. They channeled the aesthetic of frosting that I wanted to touch and taste.

Before dinner, we had pleasure of meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger and applauding his efforts in conservation. Stay tuned for his participation on a film on our oceans that will premiere at Cannes Film Festival this May. I also met Katy Perry, which was was definitely a Hollywood moment.


Katy Perry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Susan Rockefeller via Susan Rockefeller

At the end of these two wonderful days, I felt a deeper connection to my own art: photography, encaustic collage, and film. I realized that much of my work, and that of many artists, is viewed through the lens of social activism and geared toward refining our relationship to our place in the world. I also discovered that LA is developing a robust art scene with incredible interrelationships between art, architecture, music, and politics. I was lucky to enjoy the company of so many friends and colleagues, and to deepen my understanding of diverse approaches to art and sculpture as well as ideas about art theory.

In retrospect, all the artists I was the most drawn to had a certain obsessiveness to their work. Perhaps this is something to ponder as a cultural gestalt of our times? I would tend to say yes and look forward to seeing if this stays consistent in my future excursions.