Museum of Neon Art (MONA)
136 W. 4th Street
Los Angeles, CA
Last month while I was down in Los Angeles I had an opportunity to stop by the Museum of Neon Art, or the MONA as those familiar with the museum call it. Those of you who follow my photography know that my Neon Days and Neon Nights set is one of my most worked on collection of images. I’ve got almost 2,000 photographs of neon in my collection so far and so I was very excited to be able to visit this interesting museum devoted to neon signs in Los Angeles.
The MONA is easy to miss. It’s on 4th Street in Downtown L.A in a fairly nondescript space with three big letters in it’s storefront window, A-R-T. But if like me you admire neon, you will definitely want to stop by and check it out.
The museum was founded in 1991 and the space it’s in now is its temporary space from what I understand. I don’t think that a permanent space has been identified for the museum but I think that they are working on finding one. The current space that houses the MONA is a little on the small side for a museum, but they make up for their smaller size by having some of the most amazing vintage neon signs I’ve ever seen. Included in their collection are a giant Jantzen neon diver, a great vintage Pep Boys sign, a Van de Kamp’s bakery sign, a Fun Land side with moving neon, and lots of other great vintage signs.
In addition to the museum’s vintage neon signs, most of which were restored and in perfect working order, there were a number of other interesting group exhibits by contemporary artists focusing on neon. In the lobby of the museum they also had several fantastic neon photographs by photographer Rob Carter. They also had some great historical neon photographs, including a photograph of the first neon sign in the United States, a Packard sign that people used to drive from miles around to come see and visit.
I spent a half an hour or so talking to the guy who was working the door at the museum and he gave me a lot of great background on the museum. Apparently, in addition to the museum itself they also have a giant warehouse with even more signs downtown somewhere that is not open to the public. Apparently the warehouse doesn’t have electricity so you have to visit it with flashlights. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to check out that place as well.
My favorite thing about the museum? It was such a relaxing place to take photographs of their signs. It’s refreshing to me that the museum is so open with it’s photo policy and had no problem with me spending a few hours shooting their collection. I pretty much had the entire place to myself and had all the room I needed to work and photograph the amazing collection. I was able to get down on the floor to shoot and really had the run of the place. My only warning from the guy working there was to watch out for the suitcase that moves around on the floor, it’s an exhibit and sometimes people forget that it’s there.
In addition to the neon museum itself, the MONA also runs a number of different double decker bus neon tours. I didn’t get a chance to go on any of those but I’ve heard from other people who have that they are great.
It seems like every other day another neon sign is coming down. I worry that, especially with the bad economy, more and more places are going to go out of business and that we are likely to lose more and more historic signs going forward. Having a museum devoted to salvaging these signs and restoring them is a great thing. Hats off to the people behind this museum for doing the important work that they do.
Admission to the MONA is $7. There is metered street parking, but bring lots of coins because the parking meters downtown are pretty expensive (fortunately I found a broken meter when I visited). The museum is open Thursday-Saturday noon-7PM; Sunday noon-5PM.
I put together a set of about 15 images from the museum that you can view here. I’ve got lots more images of the museum that I still need to upload that I’ll be adding in the days ahead.
Update: Interestingly enough there is an article today over at the Environmental Capital blog at the Wall Street Journal that talks about the recent decision by ConnocoPhillips to try and save some of the Union 76 service station balls that have been coming down. It looks like the MONA has in fact recieved on of these iconic balls from ConnocoPhillips. Thanks, Russell!