The Getty Center
is an art museum
and institute in Los Angeles
founded from the oil fortune of J. Paul Getty
. The center is a beautiful
campus of modern buldings on a 750-acre site atop one of the Santa
. There are several different entities represented
on the site:
- The J. Paul Getty Museum. To most folks not engaged in research, the
museum is synonymous with the Center. The museum houses a large
collection of painting, sculpture and decorative arts through the end
of the 19th century. Admission is free; the entire facility is funded
through Getty's Trust.
- The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the
Humanities. An interdisciplinary program for art and humanities with a
huge research library. The Institute produces scholarly publications
as well as engages the public through exchibitions and public talks.
- The Getty Conservation Institute promotes "conservation of the world's
cultural heritage" by research, training and publications.
- The Getty Leadership Institute for Museum Management trains museum
professionals in the business skills needed to manage modern museums.
It runs The Museum Mangement Institute at the University of
In 1953, Getty started a small museum in his Malibu home of art from
his personal collection: Greek and Roman artifacts, French Furniture
and European paintings. The collection grew so large that in 1974 Getty built a Roman-style villa in
the hills above Los Angeles, modeled after the Villa dei Papiri in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, to house the collection. When
the preponderance of Getty's estate (roughly $1.2 billion in Getty Oil Company stock) passed into the J. Paul Getty
Trust in 1982 after his death in 1976 (the delay was from some legal wrangling), the trustees decided to expand the
scale and scope of the museum even further. In 1983 the Getty Trust purchased
about 750 acres of real estate on a foothill of the the Santa Monica
Mountains, and started an international search for an architect,
settling on Richard Meier. After 14 years of planning and construction, the center opened to the public in 1997, at which point
the Villa was closed for renovations. When the Villa reopens it will
house the classical portions of the Center's collection.
Richard Meier was already an internationally-renowned modernist in
1984; he won the the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in
architecture, in the same year. Meier was famous for creating
neo-modern, curvilinear buildings of white enameled panels and glass.
For the Getty site, which was to maintain a sense of a contemporary
building while retaining some feel of the Italian villa, he combined
his signature building style with Romanesque materials: huge sections
of travertine stone from Tivoli, Italy. The rock comes
from the same quarry that was used to build the Coliseum, the Trevi
Fountain and the St. Peter's Basilica colonnade. It took 100 ocean
freighter voyages from Italy to bring the 16,000 tons of travertine
needed to build the center to Los Angeles.
The hilltop site is accessible only by a 5-minute tram ride from a
parking facility at the bottom of the hill. Meier wanted to give
visitors the feeling of "being elevated out of their day-to-day
The finished complex is a striking mix of modern Meier-esque buildings
incorporated into a travertine foundation and plaza. The complex is
nestled on the hillside with a central Italianate garden designed by
Robert Irwin, and peripheral gardens done by Laurie Olin in
coordination with Meier. A unique splitting process developed for the
construction gives the travertine stone a rough texture, allowing it
to catch the abundant light on the hilltop as well as maintain a sense
of classical, aged, rough-hewn stone.
The plaza and gardens also frame breathtaking views of the Santa
Monica foothills, Los Angeles, and the ocean. The sunset throught the
gardens is astonishingly beautiful.