We’re still making new discoveries in Los Angeles County’s collection of world-class museums and art galleries. But take a cultural day trip down the freeway and you’ll find a side of the art world unlike anything closer to home. Gallery walls give way to massive outdoor installations and Dadaist assemblages of outsider art. With that in mind, we’ve selected a few of our art installations near L.A. (especially in the direction of Palm Springs and Joshua Tree) that are worth a day trip.
Dividing the Light (Claremont)
A quick drive down the freeway for SGV residents, but basically a day trip for anyone further west, this outdoor James Turrell piece is worth a visit no matter where you start. While not as enveloping as Turrell’s colourful Ganzfeld series, this Skyspace installation invites you to sit on a bench and gaze at the sky through a sharply cut square in a canopy. Arrive about 25 minutes before sunset and 100 minutes before sunrise to see the frame pulsate through a light programme, with brief chimes on the hour in between.600 N College Ave, Claremont. Open daily.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch (Oro Grande)
The late Elmer Long inherited a collection of colourful glass bottles in 2000. What could he do with them but create a forest of bottle trees? By the time he passed away in 2019, Long’s continued recycling had grown the installation to over 200 bottle trees.24266 National Trails Hwy, Oro Grande. Visible from the side of the road even when the gate is closed.
World Famous Crochet Museum (Joshua Tree)
Look for the “art queen” sign on the edge of town in Joshua Tree and let yourself in through the gate. At the back of a dusty courtyard you’ll find this lime-green former Fotomat booth, no wider than a closet, filled floor to ceiling with Shari Elf’s collection of crocheted creations.61855 Hwy 62, Joshua Tree. Open daily 10am-6pm.
Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum (Joshua Tree)
Not long after co-founding the Watts Towers Art Center, L.A. artist Noah Purifoy moved to the Mojave and began work on this salvage-yard-like outdoor installation, a project he spent the last 15 years of his life building. The 10-acre site’s discarded objects range from eerie piles of rubble to political statements and domestic structures.63030 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Part of a trio of temple-like structures at the 2018 edition of Coachella, Edoardo Tresoldi’s sculpture has since found a permanent home in the town of Coachella. It doesn’t look quite as carefree and weightless as it did on the polo field, but walking inside the 54-foot-tall Etherea still feels like a beautiful bit of mist.Cesar Chavez St and 6th St, Coachella. Open daily.
Salvation Mountain (Niland)
A mixture of adobe, straw and paint, Leonard Knight’s “mountain” is covered in a collage of colourful murals, including a large “God is Love” wedged between a cross and a heart. In addition to the religious tones, the 50-foot-high, 150-foot-wide mural on the southeast side of the Salton Sea also includes images of flowers, trees, waterfalls and birds.Beal Rd, near Niland. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
East Jesus (Niland)
If you drive to Salvation Mountain, this Slab City artists’ retreat is less than a mile away. There is an art garden with a variety of bric-a-brac sculptures, mostly made from rubbish and junk. Each piece is made by a different artist and can be rotated for new installations.
Sensorio (Paso Robles)
The three-hour-plus evening drive back may stretch the limits of a day trip, but a tedious trip up and down the 5 is a small price to pay for this illuminated hillside walk by artist Bruce Munro. The ticketed installation includes the 15-acre Field of Light, a flowery blanket of 58,800 fibre-optic globes; Light Towers, 69 towers of glowing wine bottles; Gone Fishing, 30 circular clusters of 25 colourful fishing rods; and Fireflues, a pathway of 9,720 flickering lights. 4380 Hwy 46 E, Paso Robles. Thu-Sun evenings; $43.