Located just a few blocks from bustling Shoreline Drive and the famous Aquarium of the Pacific, the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) is a showstopper: fountains, sculptures and the beautiful, sun-drenched building designed by Mexican architect Manuel Rosen invite visitors to discover a world of art. But it’s not the curb appeal alone that draws travelers and locals to Alamitos Avenue: MOLAA remains the only cultural institution in the country that is dedicated exclusively to presenting masterpieces by modern and contemporary Latin American artists.
The pride and dedication of the museum team is palpable right from the moment visitors enter the building through the glass doors. Immediately they are greeted by the friendly front desk staff, who will point everyone in the right direction. Two permanent collection exhibitions draw from the 1,300 works of art currently owned by MOLAA. In addition, two temporary exhibition galleries and one project room offer a wide array of carefully curated exhibitions. Interestingly, the museum space was previously used as a roller skating rink from the late 1920s to the 60s - the oblong layout of the wood floor is still the original.
When visitors are done browsing the gallery spaces, a stop at the spacious museum store is a great way to find a keepsake of one’s personal MOLAA experience. The shop’s colorful inventory is designed to “offer something for everyone and every budget,” says Assistant Store Manager Samara Martinez. From artisan jewelry to small Peruvian leather bracelets in all colors of the rainbow, to embroidered blouses called huipil and bags, Frida Kahlo shirts and 10 cent postcards. No one has to leave here with empty hands. The Chilean good luck charms known as chanchitos (three-legged clay pigs), which sit next to the cash register, are some of the store’s best-selling items. The little figurines are given to friends as a token of goodwill and love.
The Sculpture Garden is another eye catcher. The spacious courtyard features sculptures by Max Leiva, Carlos Luna and other artists from Panama, Guatemala, Cuba and Argentina. There is plenty of room to sit and relax for a moment. MOLAA is also going green: the Sculpture Garden features water efficient landscaping, and solar panels are used for alternative energy sources.
To refuel and round-off the visit, the museum’s Café Viva offers a multicultural menu for a casual lunch or more formal business occasions. From chicken mole to a savory chorizo flatbread and scrumptious dessert options such as coconut flan, Café Viva’s inventive offerings won’t disappoint.
MOLAA’s Board of Directors recently passed a resolution clarifying the definition of Latin American art to include Chicano art or art created by people of Latin American descent who have lived exclusively in the United States. MOLAA President and CEO, Stuart Ashman hopes this new era of inclusiveness draws in new audiences. “Art talks about the culture that it comes from”, he says. And that includes all aspects of culture and encompasses many, sometimes clashing and controversial points of view. Ashman says he always gets a positive reaction when telling people he works at MOLAA on his travels to Latin American countries.
At MOLAA, visitors can immerse themselves in Latino culture in all of its glory. On weekends, the museum regularly hosts special events, with some workshops especially geared towards families. Summer Sundays run through the end of September and are dedicated to the performing arts, mainly music and dance. Every year, MOLAA celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month with day-long festivities. The Sculpture Garden will host art-making workshops, food samplings and live music performances.
The Museum of Latin American Art is a place for immersion and cross-cultural encounters, where one is welcome to observe, participate, share and debate. What message does MOLAA have for interested potential visitors? “Can I say it in Spanish?” Ashman asks. “Aquí estan en su casa, con su cultura.” (“Here you have your house, your culture.”)
The Museum of Latin American Art is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
For more information on the Museum of Latin American Art, visit www.molaa.org.