DISCLAIMER: Right off the bat, let me tell you as a disclaimer that I am no art expert. I know what I like, but that's about it. Please excuse me if I don't go into enough detail about the art exhibits at the Getty or show any expertise in the displays.
At one time, J. Paul Getty was the world's richest man. The Bill Gates of his day, Getty died in 1979. Earlier, he had established the Getty Art Museum in Malibu. He left an endowment worth billions to the museum and a new, ultra-modern state of the art facility was built in Brentwood on a hilltop with a commanding view from Hollywood to Malibu. There is so much money in the endowment that the Getty does quite well living on the earnings and interest alone. The museum is so rich it doesn't even have to charge an admission fee.
It's a hazy, summer Sunday as we head north on the 101 toward our destination. A quick left on the 405 and a couple of exits later we're at the Getty's parking structure. Being a weekend, reservations were not necessary. If you're driving in on a weekday, a reservation for a parking space is required. You can get them online at www.getty.edu/visit/forms/parking.html or you can call (310) 440-7300. There is a $15.00 parking fee.
MTA bus line 561 and Santa Monica Big Blue Bus line 14 also serve the Getty with accessible transportation for those who don't drive. A taxi can also be taken here. No reservations are required for those who don't drive.
The handicapped parking fills up quite fast here. In fact, for a huge parking structure that extends seven levels underground, the number of designated handicapped spaces seems inadequate. I drop off my wife and Tim at the first level and descend five levels underground before I find a place to park in a non-handicapped space. I take the elevator back up to meet them.
Up on top of the parking structure is a tram station. An automatic cable driven tram takes us up the half-mile to the top of the hill. The tram is accessible and is built with such tight tolerances that the gap between the platform and the car is less than a half-inch.
After the short ride, we arrive at the hilltop campus. The center is huge. It's a bit like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., in that you would be very hard pressed to see it all in a day.
An information counter just inside the entrance gives us several brochures to help us plan our visit and find our way around. A very pleasant courtyard with fountains, benches, and snack bars greets us after we exit the entrance lobby. As this is our first visit, we are a little overwhelmed so we sit for a few minutes to get our bearings and decide which way to go.
Downstairs is the Ancient Art exhibit where sculptures, vases, and jewelry that are thousands of years old are kept. An amazing gold crown of leaves and flowers astounds me with it's intricate detail. Tiffany's would be hard pressed to created such a beautiful piece today.
Across the courtyard, we enter the South Gallery where decorative arts (furniture) are displayed on the ground floor. It's like stepping onto the set of a particularly good episode of Antiques Roadshow. The German furniture with all its hidden drawers, knobs, and many utilitarian features is what really impressed me here.
Outside, we take a walk over to the colorful main garden with its waterfall and pond maze. It's all ramped so wheelchairs have an easy time getting to every level. The Travertine marble that all the buildings and walkways are clad provide more entertainment as people hit them to hear their different chiming melodies.
The garden itself is a great place to sit, meditate, and maybe just recharge your batteries for awhile. A grotto-like sculpture with ever dripping water drains into a small stream which makes its way down the hillside. After going under a small bridge, it cascades down a waterfall into the pond which has a planted maze as a centerpiece. Surrounding the pond is an explosion of colorful flowers.
On this note, we head back up to the patio above the garden and enjoy a cool drink before heading back to the tram station. We'd been here four hours and had just scratched the surface.
2010 UPDATE: Tim took a couple of art classes since the first trip and is now much more amenable to art museums. We went back to see a Bernini exhibit, here is his take on that...
The pieces from the Bernini exhibit: The Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture, has a couple of classical art influences that comes to mind. In the sculpture, the busts are very similar to the Roman bust we saw in the first room with just the shoulders and head. In the Bernini pieces, however, more detail is added. The clothing is still very fancy and elegant, which shows a connection to having wealth and power. The one key difference between Baroque and the earlier periods is that it shows much more personality and character in the portraits and sculptures.
The Portrait of Thomas Baker shows him with wild, wind blown hair, which gives it a sense of a carefree, happy-go-lucky guy. The portrait still shows signs of wealth with the nice clothing and the fancy embroidery. The museum card on the piece says that Baker paid Bernini directly to make this piece, suggesting a bit of ego, but Bernini portrays him as a guy you might want to go drinking with. I would like to think that Bernini enjoyed making this piece and the time he spent with Baker. There is also a bit of a smile on Baker's face, which brings out his happy-go-lucky personality. Baker's hand can also be seen peeking out from the cape. This shows him to be somewhat of a relaxed individual who wouldn't let the little things in life bother him.
This statue is full of life. This is not something I saw in the Roman bust or in the Faces of Power exhibit. You can really imagine Baker being a real person with a real personality.
The Portrait of King Louis XIV shows us the Sun God who thought he was divine. This is a more serious work by Bernini, showing him in armor surrounded by billowing (wind-blown) fabric, like being on top of a cloud. The lace the king is wearing shows wealth, and the armor shows power. Yet his hair is immaculately groomed, in comparison with the Baker portrait, as if he had curlers (probably did) and a blow dryer (definitely not). He also has a precision trimmed moustache. This shows the king was concerned about his looks and probably was a bit narcissistic. The piece on display at the Getty Museum is a bronze copy and the original piece is in France.
In this instance, I get the feeling that the king needed to feel he was above everybody else. Bernini captures this egotism by seeming to have the king in a spotlight, above the clouds.
The Portrait of Pope Urban VIII is the last piece I looked at in the Bernini collection. This painted portrait shows the pope's clothing is disheveled and wrinkled. His hat is not perfect. It is a relaxed and informal portrait. His eyes are slightly glazed over. He looks tired; unlike the stern power the medieval art seems to try portraying. This portrait humanizes the Pope. It makes it seem like he is an average Joe like anybody else.
When I went to the Getty, I felt like I was climbing a mountain to a temple, much like the Acropolis in Greece. The architect of the Getty Museum is Richard Meyer. He seems to have tried to replicate that Grecian temple experience with all the Travertine stone inside the museum and the magnificent gardens. I think Meyer was trying to capture the essence of what it's like to be in an ancient temple or a palace where some of the art on display might have been originally housed.
Most of the art displayed at the Getty is at eye level, which makes it easier for people to see. There are some areas, such as the Faces of Power exhibit, where I think it could have been more accessible. For a person in a wheelchair like me, all of the art except for the portrait of Mr. de los Cobos y Molina was out of view above my head. I would like it more if they took that into account. The art is also shown the way it is intended to be seen because there is just the right amount of light needed for a person to see the art displays.
Copyright 2002 and 2010-Darryl Musick