Going To L.a.? Don’t Miss The Getty Museum

When the Getty Museum first opened in 1997, the museum’s parking and transportation system were quickly overwhelmed to the point that anyone thinking about visiting the museum had to make parking reservations months in advance. Those unwilling to wait hoofed it for miles and then waited up to four hours just to take a tram ride to the museum’s spectacular hillside setting west of downtown Los Angeles.

What a difference a decade makes. Today no reservations are required and it’s possible to drive right to your parking spot, grab a tram and be on top of the mountain just a few minutes after your arrival.

Not that the Getty Museum is any less popular. On our recent visit we noted a steady stream of visitors of all colors and stripes running the Disneyland-style gamut that takes you several revolutions down into the 2,000-car garage and then through a fast-moving line to board your tram. Most of the parking spots were taken by mid-day, and probably would for the remainder of the day.

The Getty Museum is all about the visual arts and, far from being snooty like some Big City museums we won’t mention by name, the Getty welcomes the masses by offering free admission and presenting all kinds of tours and aids to educate visitors about the significance of the treasures on display. A trip to the Getty is like a quickie art seminar that will teach you just enough names and buzzwords to make your friends believe you really are educated.

An afternoon at the Getty also seems to be a popular date activity judging from the many young couples we observed Lots of families and kids were enjoying the museum in fact, the museum goes out of its way to offer special kids programs and activities that help make the visit enjoyable even for the very young. And then there were the somewhat older Red Hat Ladies who hit upon the Getty as the perfect place for a Girls Day Out.

What’s attracting these many segments of society is a modern-day palace that cost the Getty Foundation a billion dollars and took 13 years to build. Located on maybe the last 124 acres in the L.A. hills not reserved for a movie star, the museum is worth the tram ride just to enjoy the spectacular views of the L.A. basin. Even on a smoggy day, it’s impressive.

If you’ve priced Italian travertine flooring, then you’ll have some appreciation for the money that went into the 14,000 tons of travertine that was used on walkways, in walls and on just about every available surface of the museum’s five pavilions. If you look close enough, the travertine even has little leaf fossils which, we’re sure, made it even more expensive. The Getty Museum’s courtyards, wide walkways and stairways, carefully sculpted gardens and sycamore groves all make the museum as much a park as a museum which undoubtedly is why the average person spends four hours per visit. But the star attractions, of course, are inside the pavilions a collection of artwork and antiquities that is one of the most magnificent ever assembled.

It all started with the museum’s namesake, J. Paul Getty, an oil executive and art collector who lived from 1892 until 1976. He founded the famous Getty Oil Company which eventually became Texaco. Getty began collecting art in 1930 and, upon his death, left his entire estate to the J. Paul Getty Museum Trust. Eventually, the trust ballooned to over $4.5 billion, which means the Getty Trust has continued to update the museum’s art collection with the best pieces in the world. One publication noted that the Getty Museum has about 25 times the budget of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Compared to the Louvre in Paris and other famous museums, the Getty Museum is somewhat specialized. It includes Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, sculpture, manuscripts, furniture and photographs. Walking through the pavilions you discover that each exhibit room is uncrowded, and that each item exhibited comes with an easy-to-read description of why that particular artwork is important.

When you think about how ancient some of these works are, it’s mind-boggling to look at them up-close. Unlike some well-known European museums, visitors to the Getty are able to get an unobstructed view of even the most famous paintings and artwork if you’ve visited the Louvre, you may recall that it takes considerable effort just to get up in front of the crowd so that you can say you really did see the Mona Lisa.

Drawings and manuscripts are all displayed under low light to help preserve the pieces. They’re arranged chronologically, starting with the illuminated manuscripts of the 9th Century, moving all the way to the High Renaissance period of the 16th Century.

In another pavilion, the Getty has displayed Decorative Arts in other words, anything that is made for the interior of your home which include furniture, clocks, porcelain, silver, ceramics, and tapestries 600 objects in all. That gives you some idea of how the Getty’s collection has grown; J. Paul Getty only had 30 pieces of decorative art when he died.

In one of the most unusual photograph exhibits in the world, the Getty displays photographs from way back in the 1830’s — when the technology was invented — all the way through the 1990’s. We found this one of the most fascinating parts of the museum. Actual photographs of London in the early 1800’s brought to mind English history and novels that immediately transported us in time, if only in our own minds.

The European sculpture is located throughout the museum’s pavilions and includes work from the Renaissance through 1900. The oldest painting at the Getty was done in 1295 and the collection spans all the way up to 1895. The museum, of course, includes paintings from many well-known artists including Masaccio, Mantegna, Breughel, Van Gogh, Monet and Cezanne.

One of the pavilions is set aside for changing exhibits and, while we were there, an entire exhibit was devoted to the paintings of Jacques-Louis David. Most fascinating here were the portraits of Napolean Bonaparte, who used the painter to create artwork for propaganda purposes.

There is a central courtyard, surrounded by pavilions, where you can enjoy a coffee or get something to eat. In fact, the food service at the Getty is in keeping with the same high standards as the exhibit itself. An elegant restaurant serves gourmet meals while even the food court-style caf has just about any kind of fresh-prepared food a visitor would want salads, sandwiches, grilled items, Mexican food you name it.

Our game plan for the Getty worked just about right show up just before lunch and enjoy a tasty meal before lingering through the afternoon, taking our time viewing and comprehending the masterpieces and historical artifacts that are the Getty. Soon it was time to board the computerized tram to the bottom of the hill and snake our way out of the garage. It had been like visiting a Disneyland for art-lovers though the price of admission at this adventure land was quite a bit easier to take.

AT A GLANCE

WHERE: The Getty is just wet of downtown L.A. and can be reached via Getaway Center Drive, just off Interstate 405.

WHAT: The Getty is an unusual collection of the visual arts, with most of the exhibits dating back many centuries.

WHEN: Any time of year.

WHY: The Getty Museum is both fun and educational. This is an astounding group of exhibits in a spectacular setting where you’ll want to spend the better part of a day.

HOW: To get more information on the Getty Museum, call (310) 440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu. Admission is free.

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