The Getty Center is a superb experience for the visitor, both for its architecture and for its collections. CV’s first visit to the Getty in the late 1970’s at its Malibu location left such a poor impression that we did not return for twenty years. What a difference twenty years and a billion dollars can make!
Funded with an endowment from the J. Paul Getty (read O-I-L) estate, the once small museum in its ersatz Roman villa has metamorphosed into a multifaceted institution involved in conservation, education, and research, as well as collecting great art, particularly painting, antiquities, photography, and decorative arts.
The Getty Center opened its new 110 acre campus on December 16, 1997 and attracted one million visitors during its first six months. The architect for the new center is Richard Meier, an American master of the modernist style. (We remember Meier’s building for Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in particular for its airy, open, light quality.) At the Getty, Meier had the rare architectural opportunity to design a whole complex of buildings in a contained environment. What he has done is not new or particularly innovative, but it is an impeccably controlled culmination of his dignified style.
When you visit, plan a couple of hours just for walking about the campus. Absorb the views of (and from) the site from different vantage points – different levels and varying locations. Every look you take will find a vista composed perfectly of line, space, volume, color, and texture. From the broad sweep to the smallest detail, every element of the architecture is right. It is an architecture of luxury, the rare situation where budgets did not constrain. CV believes it to be one of the transcendent aesthetic experiences of our time.
Take a break with lunch in the fine restaurant (advance reservation highly recommended). Then choose which area of the galleries is of most interest to you. This becomes a full day. There is more to see than can be taken in in one visit. Be selective so you don’t become visually sated; save the rest for a future visit.
We chose the painting galleries. My, how well the Getty has collected in the last twenty years! If not exhaustive or in depth for any particular period or school, there are still enough masterpieces to pleasure the most discriminating eye. From Correggio to Rubens to Cezanne, the range is wide and the quality is fine.
Much publicity has focused on the crowds and the difficulty of a visit to the Getty. With a little forethought, you can have a smooth and comfortable day. First, if you can, go on a weekday, when there are fewer visitors. Second, go early in the day. Advance reservations for parking are booked well into the future. Instead of driving there, park your car somewhere along the route of the Santa Monica Blue Bus (#14). The bus takes you right to the Getty front entrance. No advance reservations are required for entry and there is no admission charge. Finally, do call ahead to the restaurant to reserve a table for lunch: (310) 440-7300. It is a superior experience to the cafe and will cap off a memorable day.