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Museum of Neon Art (re)opens in Glendale, at last

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp

"Go North" by Randy Noborikawa, 2012 Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

The Museum of Neon Art has a long, storied history in Los Angeles.

Founded in 1981, the museum houses works of neon and electric art from artists all over the world. It also has restored vintage neon signs from businesses all over SoCal. For the neon signs that still stand today, MONA takes Angelenos on tours to check them out.

MONA's massive collection has been on display around L.A. In years past, the museum found a home in downtown Los Angeles, then the Universal CityWalk and now in downtown Glendale this month. It's right across the street from the Americana at Brand, developer Rick Caruso's massive open air shopping center. "They need some neon desperately now," said Eric Lynxwiler of the mall. He's a spokesperson for the museum. 

It's true for all of Glendale and the rest of Los Angeles, too. The streets no longer hum with the buzzing of bright and bold neon. Decades have passed since that was the case. But take heart: you can find plenty at MONA; the new building features just a fraction of MONA's enormous collection. 

"And funny enough, the Museum of Neon Art was actually given a few of those neon signs from Glendale back in the 1980s when they said 'eh, neon's not too good anymore, we want to get rid of it,'" said Lynxwiler. 

Today, MONA buzzes with relics from the neon's past and present: a giant green frog in a coat and top hat that used to dance on the Bakersfield grocery store currently greets visitors in the lobby. On another side of the room, dozens of neon clocks cover the wall. There's even a couple for sale, like this traveling salesman clock.

Inside the main gallery, you'll find even more neon, but elevated to a fine art. Works here span decades and include portraits, installations and this thing.

Richard Ankrom's "Tannenbaum" uses recycled neon tubes powered by a Jacob's Ladder. "It's a whole bunch of wires allowing electrical current to pass upward from one wire to another," said Lynxwiler. "It's basically allowing you to see trapped lightning."

"And there it is, behind glass, thankfully," he added.

Lynxwiler makes a simple pitch for MONA: more than any store at that mall across the street, the Museum of Neon Art has something for everyone. "It's art, it's science, and it's also roadside Americana. It's a little bit of everything for the family," said Lynxwiler. "Come here, and take all the selfies you want, because your background is gonna be beautiful."

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