Los Angeles has plenty of hyper-specific museums—hallowed cultural halls dedicated to everything from “Jurassic technology” to neon to broken relationships—so don’t feel bad if the Wende Museum has escaped your radar to date. With more than 100,000 pieces of propaganda, art, and personal effects from Soviet Bloc nations of the Cold War era, the museum’s collection is one of the largest of its kind. Its presence in L.A. feels a little less logical than, say, a shrine to wax figures of celebrities, and it isn’t particularly visible; its most public offering sits across the street from LACMA, where you’ll find a guard booth and a section of the Berlin Wall bedecked with murals of Nelson Mandela and John F. Kennedy.
The Wende (pronounced “VEN-da”) has been hiding in a cramped Culver City office park for 15 years, helming exhibitions of Stasi espionage equipment, Lenin busts, and Soviet graphic art. Founder and executive director Justinian Jampol says that displaying the objects in L.A. instead of in a country like Germany—in other words, removing them from their original context—helps depoliticize them. “We wanted to loosen the grasp of this history so that…all people can find a way to engage with it,” Jampol says. “One of L.A.’s strengths is that it’s open in ways another place might not be.”
Since the museum’s founding in 2002, less than 1 percent of the collection has been on display at any given time. This month the Wende is finally getting the space it deserves. On November 18 Jampol and chief curator Joes Segal are welcoming visitors to the museum’s new home inside the Culver City Armory (10808 Culver Blvd.)—a Cold War artifact in its own right. “[It] was supposed to be one of the centers from which a possible third world war against the Soviets would be coordinated,” Segal says of the 1949 building, which used to be a National Guard drill hall. “And now it will be a space to showcase the culture and life behind the iron curtain.”
The 13,000-square-foot property (leased from the city for $1 a year for the next 75 years) will allow for collaborations with contemporary artists and other museums like the Getty as well as a discussion series. Segal hopes that more varied programming will start conversations about the Cold War’s relationship with modern-day politics. “What we try to facilitate is not just being a museum about the past,” he says, “but using the past in order to make sense of current concerns.”
Three More Museums Hiding in Plain Sight
The Underground Museum
3508 W. Washington Blvd.
Artist Noah Davis founded this Arlington Heights institution in 2012 to bring museum-quality art into a historically diverse working-class neighborhood. Before he died in 2015, he curated three years’ worth of shows using pieces from MOCA’s contemporary collections. The current exhibition, Artists of Color, examines the political implications of the palette.
2215 Lake View Ave.
Australian explorer and evangelist Antonia Futterer is rumored to be the real-life inspiration for Indiana Jones: He traveled through the Middle East for two years in search of the Ark of the Covenant before settling in Silver Lake. Schedule a tour of his former home-cum-bible study center to see the expansive collection of artifacts he picked up along the way.
Psychiatry: An Industry Of Death Museum
6616 Sunset Blvd.
Psychiatrists are behind 9/11, the rise of Hitler, and George Washington’s death—or so Scientologists would have you believe. The controversial church funded this multimillion-dollar Hollywood museum, which puts forth the hypothesis that psychiatry often results in death.