It seems fitting that you approach the Getty Center from deep underground, on a tram that lifts you into the heavens with misty glimpses of the city below. When it stops, the doors open to a vast world of sheer sunlight, breezy air and endless sky. Over its edges in every direction, Los Angeles sweeps out to infinity. On a clear day you can see the LA skyline, the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains, and the Pacific.
The unique quality of the light surrounding you is created by 1.2 million square feet of Travertine marble, cleft-cut and rough-textured to absorb and reflect the sun in sublime ways. Look closer and you’ll catch the whispery shapes of fossilized leaves, feathers, and branches, encased for millennia in the stone. Many think this material is the single most inspired aspect of architect Richard Meier’s masterpiece.
Across the arrival plaza, a grand staircase rises to meet five interconnected two-story art pavilions. You can explore them chronologically or at random, never retracing your steps. The clever weaving of interior and exterior space, gallery and garden ensures that you always know where you are and where you’ve been. Natural light illuminates the interiors, as walls of glass admit sunshine filtered by automatic louvers and shades.
A sixth “gallery” is the ravishing Central Garden. Its creator, the late artist Robert Irwin, called it “a sculpture in the form of a garden, which aims to be art." It’s a symphony of vision, scent and sound, combining more than 500 changing varieties of plant material with the shifting sounds of a rocky stream that flows down through the garden to a stunning round pool at the bottom.
The first Getty museum was housed in a wing of the multibillionaire industrialist and collector’s ranch house in Malibu. As his collection grew, he built the Getty Villa in Malibu, a lavish re-creation of a Roman villa uncovered at Herculaneum. In 1997, the Getty Museum opened in Brentwood. It now houses the collection’s European paintings, sculpture, drawings, and decorative arts to 1900, illuminated manuscripts, and photographs. It also houses the world-famous Getty Conservation Institute, Foundation and Research Institute.
Throughout the year, the Getty Center presents a wide range of public programs through its Getty 360˚ initiative. Year-round events include free lectures and conferences, family activities, studio courses, culinary workshops and specially curated film series. The summer schedule includes Saturdays Off the 405, a popular outdoor music series featuring live performances from indie-pop to world music.
The art at the Getty is magnificent. But for many visitors, the most priceless treasure is the museum itself … and the experience of being there.
Photo Credits: © J. Paul Getty Trust (Cafe photo: H. Hockenberry)