Becoming L.A.

1-NHM Source

Where: Natural History Museum

Location: 900 Exposition Boulevard, South Los Angeles

When I first heard about the new exhibition, Becoming L.A., now open at the Natural History Museum, I knew it couldn’t tie into the theme of All That Glitters any better. This LA-centric show focuses on the origins of what would become the City of Angels; beginning its tale with the 44 settlers who migrated from Mexico to found an agricultural community in 1781 – joining a few of the already established Spanish missions in California as the 4th official “pueblo” 232 years ago. From there, mission life and their contribution to the cultivation of a new environment is explored (albeit through historically known harsh treatment of the Native Americans that isn’t readily highlighted); to the importance and influence of cows (seriously!) for successful cropping development, to the colonization of the area by Mexican rule once Spanish influence was overturned, until that rule is later lost during the Mexican-American war, where Los Angeles became a part of the United States. The exhibit ends with my very biased, yet favorite part of the exhibition: contemporary L.A. – showcasing the turn to movie-making, Hollywood, and all things 20th century.

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Spending almost 2 hours in the gallery on a dreary Saturday afternoon, I easily found myself completely engaged and completely overwhelmed at the influx of information and history around me. Told through a walking narrative as you explore the 14,000-square-foot gallery space, the atmosphere is surprisingly very dark and dramatic overall, providing a more moody vibe to take in the more than 250 artifacts. Original photographs of various settlers and places, paintings of early California missions and prominent individuals to the development of L.A., household items and furniture of the time, tools, a rare sighting of the 1902 Tourist automobile, books, and filming equipment are among the objects on display. It was beyond fascinating to learn how a simple town of 44 would eventually become one with millions, both in populous and economic industrial endeavors.

While the museum does a solid job of compressing over 200 years of history into a cohesive experience, I had grievances with the presentation of the show visually. At times I was so unimpressed, that I found parts of the exhibit to be rather uninviting. Specifically, I was distracted by the museum’s choice to align many of the paintings and photographs intentionally so high that it was hard to appreciate them. And not that they were running out of wall space either. In some cases the walls right in front of you at eye level were literally empty, yet you were forced to take in paintings well over 7 feet high up on a wall. Even more frustrating, accompanying text was written in black on already darkly painted walls making it extremely difficult to read labels. Not to mention that while eliciting a great mood, the low-lighting made it nearly impossible to capture awesome pictures for my post! But this isn’t a deal breaker. I know that museum’s do this at times to preserve the physical integrity of the art and perhaps even the strange positioning of the paintings I mentioned might allude to this as well – though I gather this was more of a poor design choice. Either way, the essence of a museum is to be welcoming to guests and presentation is everything. The placement of some objects took away from an otherwise enlightening experience.

That being said, I would still make it a point to see Becoming L.A. It earmarks the triumphs and tragedy of building what would become one of the greatest metropolis’ in the world. The exhibition is the newest addition to the Natural History Museum’s permanent collection.

1-2013-07-20 13.28.09{Interior – gallery.}

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{The importance of cattle to the development of L.A. agriculture. It’s amazing what a little grazing and cow “poop” can do!}

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{The actual table that the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed on effectively ending the Mexican-American War.}

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{A rarely restored 1902 Tourist automobile.}

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{Hello Hollywood!}

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{The birth place of the electric guitar.}