Take a Nighttime Tour of These Illuminated Works of Public Art

Five glowing pieces to admire (and none of them are “Urban Light”)

While we may occasionally bemoan the lack of seasons in L.A., the mild conditions here have their advantages, including making the city particularly hospitable to public art. Recently, the Triforium, a 1975 multi-media sculpture by Joseph Young has undergone a complete upgrade, bringing life back to a work that had sat abandoned for years. In honor of the reopening, a group of supporters have even been staging events to show off the piece’s restored sound and light capabilities. And while the Triforium might be one of the grandest pieces of its kind in L.A., we’ve found five other illuminated public art installations around the city that you might not have stopped to appreciate before.

Generations of the Cylinder by Michael Hayden


When the International Jewelry Center opened downtown in 1981, the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times declared that this public art installation was the only thing that saved the building from “almost total offensiveness.” The work by artist Michael Hayden (note: not the CIA director named Michael Hayden) involves a series of 27 half-cylinder components outfitted with tubes containing multi-colored vapors programmed to change on timed sequences and in response to the body heat of passing pedestrians. Similar to the Triforium, this piece was switched off for a time, but in 2015, it was refurbished and relit. 550 S. Hill St., downtown.

Kinetic Light Installation by Paul Tzanetopoulos


You’ve probably snapped a photo of the giant, glowing LAX letters on a trip to the airport. But those letters are just a small component within artist Paul Tzanetopoulos’ larger work, which consists of 26 pylons, ranging from 25 to 60 feet tall, that make up the largest lighting-based public art installation in the world. Pay attention to the colors of the light as you enter or exit LAX; Tzanetopoulos programed each pylon’s shade to represent concepts about Los Angeles, and they have been temporarily reprogrammed in honor of special events or remembrances. 1 World Way, Westchester.

Motordom by Keith Sonnier


Commissioned by Caltrans to wrap the exterior of their district headquarters building in art that evoked transportation and movement, this 2004 neon-and-aluminum installation by Keith Sonnier is said to be one of the largest public art pieces in L.A. The artist programmed the blue and red neon tubes to illuminate in a specific sequence that makes light appear to move around the building’s courtyard. 100 S. Main St., downtown. 

Los Angeles Opens Its Heart of Compassion by Cliff Garten


This 20-foot metallic sculpture hangs like a chandelier outside of Koreatown apartment complex the Vermont. At night, the construction of laser-cut aluminum glows with color-changing light projections. Local artist Cliff Garten designed the piece to suggest a lotus blossom, which carries symbolic meaning in Korean culture. 3150 Wilshire Blvd., Koreatown.

Champ by Zoë Buckman


All art has political elements, but in Zoë Buckman’s case, the message is clear. The activist artist installed this neon work—a uterus flanked by a pair of boxing gloves—in time for Women’s History Month in 2018. The plan is for it to stay in place until February 2019, but the ephemeral nature of the piece is intentional. “I researched it and learned how these neon signs are kind of transient,” she told us when the piece debuted. “They have a shelf life, and they run out. I found that so beautiful and painful.” Intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Sweetzer Ave., West Hollywood.

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