Contrary to popular assumption, the Hammer Museum is not in fact a museum about hammers. It’s actually an art museum, specifically UCLA’s free to the public art museum. Occupying a luxurious amount of real estate on the busy intersection of Westwood and Wilshire, The Hammer Museum’s unremarkable geometry and lightly striped façade are easy to drive right by. And the giant letters make it easy to mistake to be a suspiciously large building dedicated to hammers.
But the Hammer is from Dr. Armand Hammer (yes, that would be the same family as the notorious Armie Hammer, great grandfather to be specific), a businessman and art collector. The museum was opened in 1990, just weeks before Dr. Hammer passed away. A few years later, the museum partnered up with UCLA, merged collections and has been a public art institution in Westwood ever since.
While not as big as some of the more well-known art museums in the city, the heart of the museum is in the robust event and screening programming. Perhaps because it’s associated with an educational institution, the Hammer curates events like a curriculum, unpacking the history, the present and the future through the lens of art. From exhibitions to lectures to film screenings to musical performances, the Hammer exudes intellectual creativity (it helps that half the people working at the museum are DESMA—Design Media Arts—students). Most importantly, the museum is free. The free admission makes it accessible and welcoming as a public education haven that lends itself to regular visits and revisits to fully soak up the everchanging programming (and the annual Made in L.A. exhibition).
In terms of the art, it spans a wide range. There’s the original Armand Hammer collection, with a lot of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings from Europe and America. There’s the Contemporary Collection, filled with art from the 1960s onwards, and a special focus on LA-based artists. There’s a UCLA Artists Collection, filled with works by artists who studied or taught at UCLA. There’s the Grunwald Center Collection, focused on works on paper extending from the Renaissance to the present. In addition to the gallery spaces showcasing the art, there is the Billy Wilder Theater, a 300-seat theater, Audrey, a full service restaurant and bar with California vibes, and like any museum worth its salt, a store filled with curated books and design stuff. The Hammer Store is big, or rather, there have been bigger museums with smaller stores.
All in all, the Hammer Museum might be one of the more underrated art places in LA.
|Address||10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles|
|Hours||11am – 8pm Tuesday – Friday, 11am – 5pm weekends, closed Monday (restaurant open until 11pm)|
|Price||free admission for everyone always, $$-$$$ for the restaurant|
|Aesthetic||minimalist and contemporary|
Go here for: art with a side of college lecture (but in a good way)
Don’t miss: the restaurant, Audrey, and the Hammer Store, which carries a lot of art books in addition to the typical art gift shop design products
Amount of time to spend: depends on what you’re here to do, maybe an hour or two for the museum (with time to peruse the store), longer if you’re planning to stay for dinner or a drink or an evening event
When to come: daytime for the museum exhibitions, evenings for events (check the calendar online for the schedule)
Parking: is available under the museum, $7 for the first 3 hours with validation with a $20 daily max, $7 flat fee after 6pm and all day on weekends. Or, if you’re a strategic former Bruin, you can snag a meter in Westwood (but if you’re not familiar with the neighborhood, save yourself the extra 15 minutes and just park at the museum)
Other things to note:
Last visited: March 2019
Last updated: February 2021