Underground LA: Secret art hidden across the city

There's tons of secret art in Los Angeles, from subway art underground LA to world famous street art right under your nose.

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You don't need a Getty Center museum guide or a tour of LACMA to find some of the best art in LA: The city has its fair share of secret art adorning buildings, billboards and subway tunnels—all you have to do keep your eyes peeled (and check out our list below) to see undeground art in unexpected, secret places in LA. 


Recommended: See more Underground LA


  • Photograph: Courtesy JR

    "Carl in Silverlake," 1755 Glendale Blvd

    JR is the prolific street artist behind some of the world's most well-known building portraits; you've likely seen photos of his "Women Are Heroes" project in Brazil (giant, black and white images of eyes plastered on hillside neighborhood buildings). He's done countless similar projects in cities across the world—including Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Cartagena and NYC—and in 2011 and 2012, JR brought his "The Wrinkles of the City" project to Los Angeles, pasting striking images of wrinkled, weathered old people living in LA across the city to juxtapose "the image of perfection and regenerated beauty in the 21st century." Carl engages (a little scarily) with passerbys, while most of JR's other subjects across LA look either at each other or off into the city; if you happen to catch him on your way to or from freeway traffic, his look probably mirrors yours. Also, with all due respect to JR, we have to argue that Carl is in fact in Echo Park, not Silver Lake—but we'll concede that the borders are blurry, as always.

  • Photograph: Courtesy JR

    "Carl in Silverlake," 1755 Glendale Blvd

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Old woman, Sunset Blvd and Portia St

    Another of JR's subjects, on the wall of a building across the street from the revamped Little Joy and overlooking what is soon to be Echo park's newest gas station. (You may have noticed it—it's the one with the giant mosaic underwater scene on the outside wall, complete with sexy mermaid.)

  • Photograph: Will Knightly

    Space Invader, 3909 W Sunset Blvd

    Invader is a well-known French artist, famous for "invading" cities and pasting up Space Invader characters, made up of colorful mosaic tiles. Silver Lake's Space Invader overlooks Sunset Junction on the outer wall of what used to be a LaunderLand, but is now a gastropub called the Black Cat, owned by the folks behind Village Idiot. Thankfully, they've chosen to keep him around to watch over their fancy new parking lot, though he's been covered with thick white paper during the building's reonvations, we're sure to protect his cherry red hue.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Invader

    Space Invader, Hollywood sign in Griffith Park

    Invader is both prolific and rather sneaky, as evidenced by this little Space Invader hiding below the W of Griffith Park's famed Hollywood sign, installed in 2002. Now you know something most Angelenos don't about the city's storied letters.

  • Photograph: Courtesy Invader

    Space Invader, Hollywood sign in Griffith Park


  • Photograph: Victor Leung

    Binoculars building, 340 Main St

    This distinct building on Main Street in Venice bears the signature of several major modern artists: Frank Gehry, who designed the two buildings, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, who designed the massive binoculars out front. The buildings were commissioned to house Chiat/Day advertising agency, although the current tenant is (perhaps not surprisingly) Google. Gehry was looking for a centerpiece for his buildings and by chance, happened to place a model of a building shaped like binoculars in front of the models for his two buildings; the project came to life soon after and was finished in 1991. It wasn't Gehry and Oldenburg's first rodeo, either: The two worked previously on a project at the Loyola Law School in Downtown (Toppling Ladder With Spilling Paint), installed in 1986. The binoculars do serve a purpose—as an entrance to the complex for cars and pedestrians—and are very much characteristic of Oldenburg's aesthetic of large-scale functional objects.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Robert Millar's questions, Vermont/Santa Monica Station

    Not every Angeleno even knows that LA has a subway system. Even fewer people have tapped at the turnstiles and boarded a train, and surely an even smaller number would ever consider the system art. But the late 90s Red Line extension from Wilshire and Vermont to North Hollywood is about the closest thing to a subterranean museum. Robert Millar’s thousands of painted questions fill the cavernous, temple-like walls inside the entrance at the Vermont and Santa Monica station. Michael Davis buries cues from the nearby Griffith Observatory with celestial maps and 50s sci-fi aesthetics at Vermont and Sunset. And at Hollywood and Vine, a yellow brick road and railings with the musical notes from the old earworm “Hooray for Hollywood” lead the way to palm tree columns, vintage film projectors and a tunnel of shiny blue film reels.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Robert Millar's questions, Vermont/Santa Monica Station

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Robert Millar's questions, Vermont/Santa Monica Station

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Robert Millar's questions, Vermont/Santa Monica Station

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Michael Davis' Ecliptic/Illume, Vermont/Sunset Station

     

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    May Sun ­ tiles, Hollywood/Western Station

     

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    May Sun ­ tiles, Hollywood/Western Station

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Sheila Klein's ­ Underground Girl, Hollywood/Highland Station

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Holly Andres’ Sparrow Lane, Hollywood/Highland Station

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Gilbert Lujan's ­ Hooray for Hollywood, Hollywood/Vine Station

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Gilbert Lujan's ­ Hooray for Hollywood, Hollywood/Vine Station

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    "Make Art Not War," 2505 Hyperion Ave

    Shepard Fairey's signature style can be spotted a mile away, and his new mural on the side of Baller Hardware in Silver Lake is no exception. Angelenos definitely aren't strangers to Fairey's art; the West Hollywood Library Peace Elephant has become a beloved and permanent staple in the city, and Fairey's gallery, Subliminal Projects, has its home in Echo Park at the corner of Sunset Blvd and Elysian Park Ave (psst, there's a Space Invader on the gallery building—we don't think it's a coincidence). Fairey's new "Make Art Not War" mural was installed this February, and filmed for a larger project which will be curated by his wife, Amanda.

  • Photograph: Michael Juliano

    "Parking," 908 S Broadway

    When prolific and super-anonymous Banksy premiered his 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop at the Los Angeles Theatre, the prolific street artist had already stealthily left his mark only a few blocks south. The stencil of a young girl swings on the bold red letters of a “parking” wall graphic that’s had its suffix partially erased. Don’t go looking for a park, though—like much of Downtown’s old Broadway theater district, this building near Broadway and 9th St neighbors nothing but surface parking lots. Consider the parking fees at the adjacent and ubiquitous Joe’s Auto Park a donation.

  • Photograph: Michael Juliano

    "Parking," 908 S Broadway

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Retna billboard, Wilshire and Fairfax

    When sitting in traffic on Wilshire Blvd approaching Fairfax from the West, look up for a sign from one of LA's rising artists. Towering over the now shuttered Johnie's Coffee Shop on the bustling street corner, RETNA's ever-changing billboard is aptly positioned across the street from LACMA. This is where RETNA (real name Marquis Lewis) was first known for his contemporary street art, murals and graffiti writing. RETNA's distinct artwork is often written in his own language of shapes and symbols, influenced by ancient script, Hebrew, Arabic, Asian calligraphy and Incan and Egyptian hieroglyphics. RETNA’s other murals can be seen at the West Hollywood Public Library parking lot wall and have been shown at MOCA, Michael Kohn Gallery and more. His thought-provoking art—now being sold for thousands of dollars—features hidden symbols (think: obscured fashion logos) and concealed socio-political messages.

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden, Charles E Young Dr

    There's a rock star-level roster of art hanging out in plain sight on the UCLA campus in the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden. With works by Miro, Matisse, Rodin, Arp, Lachaise, Zuñiga and Calder, this 5-acre sculpture garden is a treasure trove of art—70 pieces in all—and it's one of the most impressive outdoor sculpture collections in the U.S. Group tours of the garden are available through the Hammer Museum, or take a self-guided one (there's a podcast about the garden available for free on iTunes).

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Matisse Bas Reliefs, UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Joan Miró, Mère Ubu, UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Jean Arp, Ptolemy III, UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Jean Arp, Fruit Hybride dit la Pagode, UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    Alexander Calder, Button Flower, UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden

  • Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

    UCLA’s Franklin D. Murphy sculpture garden

Photograph: Courtesy JR

"Carl in Silverlake," 1755 Glendale Blvd

JR is the prolific street artist behind some of the world's most well-known building portraits; you've likely seen photos of his "Women Are Heroes" project in Brazil (giant, black and white images of eyes plastered on hillside neighborhood buildings). He's done countless similar projects in cities across the world—including Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Cartagena and NYC—and in 2011 and 2012, JR brought his "The Wrinkles of the City" project to Los Angeles, pasting striking images of wrinkled, weathered old people living in LA across the city to juxtapose "the image of perfection and regenerated beauty in the 21st century." Carl engages (a little scarily) with passerbys, while most of JR's other subjects across LA look either at each other or off into the city; if you happen to catch him on your way to or from freeway traffic, his look probably mirrors yours. Also, with all due respect to JR, we have to argue that Carl is in fact in Echo Park, not Silver Lake—but we'll concede that the borders are blurry, as always.


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