Getty | Los Angeles, California

Posted by on March 23, 2000
For me, going to the Getty was like going to the World’s Fair. The 1939 World’s Fair. It was a big thrill for this little girl from Naugatuck, Connecticut, to go to the BIG city of New York, and especially for the WORLD’S Fair.That’s how I felt about the Getty Museum: the latest architectural /museum wonder on the West Coast.Yes, the build-up is BIG. Entry is free, once you figure out how to get there. Parking costs only $5.00, and you can call an 800 number to make an electronic reservation for a parking space, for a specific date and time. But unless you really know your way around Los Angeles, the logistics are a bit nerve-wracking (Ultimately, the 800 number did work for us.)

By the way, the “worst” DID happen. We spent three hours in traffic getting there, when it should have taken two. But once we had arrived, (in the nick of time, they give you a half-hour leeway) we were whisked up in the tram to one of the most breathtaking sites on the Pacific Coast. Here we were, between Brentwood and Beverly Hills, facing the wide Pacific, to view Architect Richard Meier’s controversial set of buildings, set on a wide double-axis promontory, for all the world (and all the cars backed up on the 405) to see.

This was the epitome of Southern California: we were enveloped by the Sun, and on the brink of a new artistic adventure. The place did appeal to all of our senses. It felt good, it smelled good, the visuals were compelling, and we immediately made a reservation for lunch.

For anyone who doesn’t know, this museum houses the various parts of the J. Paul Getty Art Collection. They have so much money they have trouble spending it. (which is nice to know, in these days when the NEA has to be defended against Congress.)

What I love about the museum, despite criticism about the lack of broadness in the collection, or depth in various areas, is its accessibility, (once you’ve actually arrived.) For the Angelinos, and their children, this is an esthetic gold mine. After hours on the freeway, you really feel uplifted up here, and relaxed.

Regarding the logistics of getting to the museum, some people have suggested spending the night at the Holiday Inn, Brentwood. Now that I have seen the area, I heartily agree. The Holiday Inn is just down the hill. (You can almost touch it from the museum.) You can stay there, park your car there, and they will bring you to the museum in their van, free of charge. (If you can’t get a parking reservation at the Getty itself, park your car at the Holiday Inn and pay $15 to take their shuttle.)

The museum is extremely well organized for visitors. There are plenty of friendly and helpful guides, there is a movie that introduces the museum collections, there are lots of benches and other sitting areas. Frequent docent tours take an interactive educational form. You’d be surprised how retiree visitors like to guess the answers to questions posed by the architectural lecturer. Excellent maps are available at many locations.

There are many buildings on this site, separated by plazas, waterfalls, and gardens, all of which deserve a visit in their own right. While Meier’s architecture is not my favorite (it’s a little too rational), there is no question he has created a magnificent site, which has no doubt already been given a three star, “worth a detour” rating by Michelin.

There are also several museum shop locations, several eating areas, and lots of educational areas for students. (In separate buildings on this campus. there are full-blown research projects being done, and several areas are open only to scholars.) One of my favorite areas was the Art Information Rooms in each building. They are, yes, you guessed it, “interactive”, completely computerized, and in high demand by children of all ages. I had lots of fun looking at ALL the photographs in the collection, (on computer only, unfortunately. The Photography Collection was closed while a new exhibit is being mounted.)

The Decorative Arts collection is especially good at the Getty. There are many reconstructed rooms, containing elegant furniture from several periods, surrounded by lushly paneled rooms. They are among the best examples I have ever seen. A little too posh for my place, but gorgeous nevertheless.

There were two special exhibits the day we were there. One was a magnificent exhibit of ancient psalters. These illuminated manuscripts fairly glow in the dark, (where they are kept for preservation purposes.)

The other was an exhibit of Leon Kossof’s take-offs on Poussin landscapes. “This exhibition is about one artist’s struggle to understand, and get onto paper, what he sees as the essential qualities of another artist’s work.” For many years Kossof has been making drawings and etchings after old master paintings. Now Kossof has done many more especially for the Getty, after it had acquired Nicholas Poussin’s Landscape With A Calm. You can imagine what an unusual vehicle this exhibit is for the education of children and adults to the basic and the more esoteric concepts of art.

Among the perennial favorites in the collection is a Pontormo painting, a former resident of Millbrook. This Millbrook transplant was in Chauncey Stillman’s collection, until it was sold at auction by the Foundation, and the Getty bought it. It’s called Portrait of a Halbardier, but thought by many to be a portrait of Cosimo di Medici.

We spent most of the day at the museum, and could easily have spent more time, if fatigue hadn’t set in. We did manage to sit down for an hour and a half, (to eat lunch, of course).

And what a lunch it was. To begin with, the hazelnut bread and the blueberry bread could have made a meal. Jim had a zesty tomato/carrot soup, followed by a grilled Caesar Salad. (Yes, they grilled the greens, believe it or not, but after all we were in Los Angeles) I had grilled chicken on field greens with shiitake mushrooms, shoestring sweet potatoes and roasted onions, which was right up my alley.

We ate all this largesse in a bright, slick, trendy setting, with views on three sides of downtown Santa Monica and the broad Pacific to our west, in full sunshine (properly shaded). Of course we drank a California chardonnay to complete the mood.

The we toured the exquisite, unusual gardens, and more of the collection.

The Getty Museum is a pristine, Swiss-watch-like enterprise. It’s wonderful what a billion dollars can do. It’s the best form of excess I can think of.

Betsy Shequine is convinced she could only live in Los Angeles if she had a chauffeur, a billion or two, and maybe a helicopter.

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