The Hammer Museum (via Smart Destinations on Flickr, photo by Elon Schoenholz)

LOS ANGELES — After a year of pandemic-related lockdowns, Los Angeles-area museums were given the green light to reopen on March 15 as Los Angeles County moved from the purple into the less restrictive red tier of state-mandated COVID-19 regulations. Museums will only be allowed to open to 25% capacity, and must maintain heightened safety protocols, including time-ticketing, required mask-wearing, one-way gallery paths, and health screenings. Some museums have already announced their reopening dates in the coming weeks, while others are finalizing plans to reopen over the summer. 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) will re-open on April 1, with member previews beginning on March 26. Visitors will be able to see six new exhibitions, despite much of the campus having been demolished in the early days of the pandemic to make way for a high-profile and controversial redesign by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. These include a retrospective of the work of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara; solo shows from Bill Viola and Vera Lutter; as well as an entrancing, immersive installation by Cauleen Smith. Also opening will be NOT I: Throwing Voices (1500 BCE–2020 CE), a permanent collection rehang that frames the work not chronologically or geographically, but through the conceptual lens of ventriloquism. 

Also planning imminent openings will be ESMoA, a museum in El Segundo, which opens this Friday, March 26, with updated hours, Friday–Saturday, 10am–5pm. On view will be FREESTATE by Cole Sternberg, “an agitprop public movement” that imagines what a truly free California republic would look like. Due to limited gallery capacity, only five people from the same household will be allowed to enter every 30 minutes.

The Petersen Automotive Museum, located across Wilshire Boulevard from LACMA, will be opening on Thursday, March 25 with updated hours, Wednesday–Sunday, 10am–5pm. Guests will be given a complimentary stylus upon entry to push elevator buttons and sign for purchases. All interactive exhibitions will be closed, including the Pixar Discovery Center, Forza Motorsport Gallery, and Lightning McQueen photo op.

The Autry Museum of the American West will be opening to members on March 30, with a full opening on April 6. On view through November 15 will be When I Remember I See Red, a five-decade survey of art by Native artists from California and by those with connections to the state.

In mid-April, the Getty Villa will open its doors with a special exhibition on Mesopotamia, followed a few weeks later by the Getty Center. “Over the past year that we have been closed, we have taken the opportunity to do conservation work with our collection and deep-clean the galleries,” a Getty representative told Hyperallergic. “Now that we have a timeline for reopening, we will finalize the installation of some galleries and eagerly move forward with our plans to welcome visitors.”

LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes plans to reopen in early- to mid-April as well. On view will be Afrolatinidad: Mi Casa, My City, which originally opened three weeks before lockdowns last year and has sat empty ever since. Also opening will be Carlos Almaraz: Evolution of Form, which was set to open last year on March 19. The show focuses on the early work of this pioneer of the Chicano art movement and member of Los Four. As with many institutions we spoke with, LA Plaza is concerned with safety, not only for visitors, but for front line staff as well. “Senior staff has stepped up,” Abelardo de la Peña Jr., director of Marketing and Communications at LA Plaza, told Hyperallergic. “I’ll be taking shifts on the floor, to model and to show confidence and to be a support to our frontline workers.”

On April 17, the Hammer Museum will give the public their first chance to see the museum’s biennial of LA art, Made in LA, which was supposed to open last summer. The museum will allow only 40 people per hour into their 120,000-square-foot building. This edition of Made in LA is spread across two venues, and the section at the Huntington Gardens gallery will open on April 17 as well. “We are taking a cautious approach to reopening and spending the next few weeks bringing in and training our visitor-facing staff with new safety protocols in place,” a Hammer representative told Hyperallergic. “We want the experience of being at the Hammer to be as safe and fulfilling as possible for everyone who visits and works here.”

In late July, the Armory Center for the Arts will open a dual-venue survey, Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe, presented in partnership with the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College. The Armory has upgraded its ventilation system with MERV-13 rated filters and installed an ultraviolet germicidal irradiation system.

The Wende Museum, dedicated to Cold War art and ephemera, will appropriately reopen on May 1, International Workers’ Day, known as May Day. Other planned openings include the Craft Contemporary, opening on May 1 to members, and May 9 to the public; the Norton Simon Museum, opening mid-May; the Fowler Museum, opening in June; the Long Beach Museum of Art, opening on April 1; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, opening their Grand Ave location some time in the spring. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles has already opened by appointment with a solo show by Paul Pescador, and the group show The Inconstant World.

The case for reopening museums has been divisive, with many in the arts wondering why it has taken so long for officials to give them the OK, when they are considered by many to be relatively safe. Still, some are arguing that it’s still too soon to visit museums.

“The health and safety of our visitors and staff are of the utmost importance. We would not reopen the museum unless we felt it was safe to do so,” said an Autry representative. “With their cavernous spaces, controlled access points, powerful and effective HVAC systems, and willingness to implement practices such as masking and social distancing for both visitors and staff, museums are also uniquely positioned to offer a safe experience during this time, especially as cases plummet and vaccination rates rise. We look to our colleagues at cultural institutions across the nation who have reopened their doors without contributing to an increase in cases.”

Located in Orange County, the Bowers Museum was one of the first museums in the area to reopen, and did so on March 17. A museum representative told Hyperallergic that while they understood the hesitancy of some people, they were secure that they had employed adequate protocols. “It’s good and right to question reopening,” they said via email. “While state and local guidelines have deemed it safe to reopen at 25% capacity, each institution needs to evaluate for themselves what they’re ready and capable of implementing in terms of safety precautions. Higher standards must be raised and met, and museums need to be ready to continually reevaluate and raise or adapt standards as we navigate the new normal.”

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Matt Stromberg

Matt Stromberg is a freelance visual arts writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to Hyperallergic, he has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, CARLA, Apollo, ARTNews, and other publications.