Museums are great, but you don't always have to head to an art-world establishment to see beautiful works. Fortunately, Los Angeles is filled with art in public places, whether they're impromptu works of street art, commissioned pieces or gifts to cities.
On a recent Sunday, I went to San Pedro, which has a substantial collection of public art. These include pieces that go back to the New Deal and more recent, commissioned murals from L.A.-based artists. From stately statues to fun, painted utility boxes, there's a lot to explore.
1. “Gargantuan Duckies From Sea and Space!”
There is a sizable collection of painted boxes in San Pedro, but Monte Thrasher's duck-themed piece on Harbor at Seventh is my favorite. The title alone is a winner; “Gargantuan Duckies From Sea and Space!” sounds like it belongs in a double feature with Killer Klowns From Outer Space. I would go see that.
Thrasher is an artist with nerd cred — he worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation — and there's a sci-fi influence in this piece. It's inspired by a large, inflatable duck that neighbored the USS Iowa and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The front is painted with a bathtub duck in the sea. On the other side, you'll see a duck-shaped celestial object. The two sides of the box are complementary, making it a really good excuse to get out of the car and walk down the block instead of just admiring it from a red light.
2. Misty Copeland mural
You know you've made it when your image is muralized across your old stomping grounds. For Misty Copeland, there's more than a mural dedicated to her in San Pedro. The famed ballerina now has an intersection named in her honor. The mural, though, is on the side of the San Pedro Ballet School, which is where the American Ballet Theatre star got her start. The mural consists of multiple panels that feature black-and-white images of Copeland in dynamic poses against colorful, graphic patterns. The artist is KFish, aka Kelcey Fisher, who often merges portraits and patterns in his art. San Pedro Ballet School, 1231 S. Pacific Ave., San Pedro.
3. “Gabrielino Nation: Spirit of the Sage”
Not far from the Misty Copeland mural is an artistic tribute to some of the region's earliest inhabitants. “Gabrielino Nation: Spirit of the Sage” is a commissioned piece that dates back to 1995 and was created by Johanna Poethig and Roberto Salas. Both artists have an extensive background in public art and have worked on projects across the country. “Gabrielino Nation” is a little weathered now. The paint has faded in splotches and some of the words on the piece are difficult to read unless you move in close to it. 1306 Pacific Ave., San Pedro.
4. Cabrillo Beach Park Statue
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was the Spanish explorer who ended up in California. Hence, you'll see a good amount of references to him around the coast, perhaps the best known of which is Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego. I mention this so that you don't get confused when you're trying to find the San Pedro beach that's also named for the explorer. At Cabrillo Beach, inside a small park that's closer to the cars than the ocean, you'll find the statue of Cabrillo. It looks like 1930s Los Angeles, or at least that old version of the city that exists in my mind, with its art deco curves and angles. That's really what makes this piece interesting. It was created by Henry Lion in 1936 as part of the New Deal. There are a few pieces of art in San Pedro that stem from these massive, government-funded programs that were put in effect during the Depression. Oliver Vickery Circle Way, San Pedro.
5. “Ghost Fish 107”
L.A.-based artist Carl Cheng has produced some very cool public-art pieces over the years, like “Museum of Space Information” at the Green Line's Redondo Beach station. His contribution to San Pedro is “Ghost Fish 107,” which is a massive sculpture of a bluefin tuna made of stainless steel, netting and a lot of odds and ends. The head of the fish, which hangs upside down, is filled with junk. It's fun to view just because it's so large and unusual, but the piece takes on new meaning anytime you see trash floating by in the water. Port of Los Angeles, Berth 73, San Pedro.
6. “Ship in a Bottle”
“Ship in a Bottle” came to being in 2011 as part of efforts to renovate the Port of Los Angeles. It's located in the Cabrillo Way Marina, where you might take a nice, short stroll before stumbling upon the piece by artist Mark Dion. The bottle here is 12 feet long and the model of a container ship trapped inside the bottle is 8 feet. It's much bigger that the ships in bottles we've seen in living rooms but still makes you wonder, “How did you squeeze the ship in there?” 2293 Miner St., San Pedro.
7. “Multicultural Man”
“Multicultural Man” is one of several statues by Italian artist Francesco Perilli that were distributed in various countries. The one in San Pedro was a gift from the Italian city of Ischia. This token of appreciation didn't land near the San Pedro Promenade without some controversy, though. “Multicultural Man” may have come without distinguishable facial features — that's part of the concept — but he is anatomically correct. So, of course, someone had to get peeved by that. The hoopla seemed to be generally confined to the South Bay and eventually subsided. Now, “Multicultural Man” stands near the fountain where kids splash around on a hot day.
8. “You Are the Key”
You'll find a higher concentration of utility-box art on Harbor, but it exists elsewhere in San Pedro as well. Over on Pacific and Seventh, artist Adrienne Wade's work is so delightful that it nearly distracted me from a nearby glob of something nasty. By covering a boring old utility box with happy hues and uncomplicated images, Wade created a very hopeful piece of art, even when the sidewalk is at its Sunday morning grimiest.
9. More utility box murals on Harbor Boulevard
If you like your walks dotted with bits of street art, Harbor Boulevard in San Pedro is the place for you. It's a busy street and parking isn't fantastic, so you might want to just stroll around when you're already in the area. Some of the pieces are easily viewable from the street. Others, like the box on Harbor and O'Farrell painted by Nuria Ortiz, consist of multiple pieces that can stand on their own, so you'll want to walk around the box to get a good view of it.
10. Korean Bell of Friendship and Bell Pavilion
If you're heading to San Pedro, venture to the Korean Bell of Friendship and Bell Pavilion. There are a lot of reasons to come here. The view is beautiful. There always seems to be a good breeze, which might be why there are kites wrapped around wires. Then there's the bell. The Korean Bell of Friendship is a gift from Korea for the occasion of the U.S. Bicentennial. It's huge, weighing 17 tons, and inspired by the Bronze Bell of King Sondok. It's a showpiece and a spectacular backdrop for a wedding; in fact, the last time I visited, the bell was off-limits due to such an event. Angels Gate Park, 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro.