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Getty Museum

by Philip Greenspun, 1998

Inside the galleries. Getty Center. Los Angeles, California. The "new Getty" cost $1 billion to construct. With $1 billion, one could print a book of full-color reproductions of all the major works in the Getty collection and mail a copy to every home in the United States. What then is the point of having a physical museum? It can't be to show people the art because that would be better accomplished by sending everyone a book.


Most art museums are like K-Mart: one building large enough to hold all the stuff. The Getty Center is like the Stanford Shopping Mall: separate buildings with covered walkways in between.

The "new Getty" has espresso bars, cafes, outdoor patios, stilt puppets, and a constantly replenished supply of musicians. In some ways it owes more to Disneyland and modern shopping malls than to traditional notions of what makes an art museum.

Personally, I'm sold on the idea. Information distribution technology gets better every year. The Getty Villa was constructed in the late 1960s. In the thirty years since its construction, society has gone from high-quality books to CD-ROMs to the Internet. If one were going to build an art museum for the next thirty years, it had better do something more than show people the art.

The Getty does a lot more. Not everyone can get there. You have to live in or be visiting Los Angeles. You have to make a parking reservation or take the bus and stand in line. But once you're there, everything in the carefully crafted environment focusses your attention on the importance of art and aesthetics.

The Garage

There is something about the underground parking lot that reminds me a lot of my own garage back home. But I can't quite figure it out...

The Tram

Make sure to stop and use the bathrooms at the top of the garage elevator, as the rest rooms in the museum are famous for lines. After getting out of the rest room, take the tram up the hill to the museum.

The Entrance

The Bookstore

People actually stand on line to spend money. These folks are ripe to enter the world of electronic commerce.

The View

The Getty is perched high on a hill overlooking Los Angeles.


The Garden

The art nerd press, and even The New Yorker spent a lot of ink on the hissy fit between the architect (Richard Meier) and the garden designer (Robert Irwin). If you hadn't heard about the controversy, you'd probably never notice that there was anything incongruous about the garden.

Here are some flower photos that I took in the garden. They demonstrate that carrying a $1400 macro lens isn't much good if you're too lazy to also carry a tripod.


With so many outdoor patios, the Getty Center is probably the last place in California where it will be legal to smoke a cigarette.

Cafes and Courtyards

The Galleries

Oh yes, the art. There are little pavilions each with a few galleries. You never have to see much without taking a little break on an outdoor patio or the courtyard.

After dark

The museum is open late many evenings.

More than a museum

There are actually a whole bunch of buildings that are part of the Getty Center but aren't part of the public museum. The Getty Foundation does a lot of education, research, and conservation. Here are some random snapshots from miscellaneous parts of the complex.


Walkings wait to get into the Getty Center. Los Angeles, California. It is easy to drive to the new Getty, which is right on Interstate 405. But, as with the old Getty, it isn't so easy to park unless you've called (310) 440-7300 and made a reservation. Check the Getty's Web site for up-to-the-minute information and bus/taxi directions.

I was at the Getty at 11 am on a Saturday morning in March 1998 and folks who'd arrived by bus had to stand on line for about an hour before earning the right to stand on line for another 20 minutes before boarding the tram.

The Old Getty

Below are some snapshots from "the old Getty" in Malibu, which is being renovated and will eventually reopen to house the Getty collection of antiquities.


PhotoCD scans by Advanced Digital Imaging. Text and photos copyright 1998 Philip Greenspun.

Article created 1998

Readers' Comments

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Carl Coryell-Martin , August 17, 1998; 01:12 P.M.

Two thoughts on the Getty Museum...

Because the Getty Museum was paid for completely by the Getty Foundation, there are no commercial messages anywhere. It was refreshing to wander around a musuem and not suffer a barrage of "this exhibit sponsored by this corporate entity." (There may be one exception to this, in the basement of one of the buildings there were some computers with the IBM logo.) The Getty was a escape from the relentless placement of advertisements on everything.

The restaruant at the Getty is fantastic. I had tea there on a whim, and it was probably the best tea I have had. I was able to get a spot for tea by making reservations the morning of our visit, but for dinner or other meals, I would call ahead. The meal was a little expensive (~$15/person for tea) but very memorable.

Tatton Sykes , October 26, 1998; 06:20 P.M.

The experience in walking and participating in this somewhat sureal place was very "false' in nature. By that I mean everyone is attempting to absorb a kind of cultural osmosis in an environment which is so overwelmingly ego driven that it becomes a charade, a parody of Los Angeles i

Kevin Ells , January 15, 1999; 04:50 P.M.

I've visited the Lourve, the British National Gallery, and many more. The Getty stands alone as a special place representing the new World and L.A. very well. It's a wonderful place to escape for an day. It's open, sexy and inspiring. I'll be back, many more times.

B.J. Segel , March 22, 1999; 08:01 P.M.

I'm surprised that Philip didn't mention that one of the fields in which the Getty collects is photography. On a recent visit the photography exhibit was the photographs of Edgar Degas. Fascinating!

Scott Johnson , May 13, 1999; 05:13 P.M.

I am shocked at the vacuousness of the comments here. Reproductions of art... are not art. Anybody with even the smallest modicum of respect for the work of artists knows this. Try standing in front of Rembrandt's Nightwatch for a minute, and then try to convince youself that a reproduction does it justice. Phil, I'm ashamed of you.


Beau Ranheim , May 21, 1999; 07:37 A.M.


The "bad" part of me wants to say that under your definition, all paintings of things not built by man are not art. After all nature "painted" all the landscapes so of course any reproduction is not art.

If I have to make a choice (an unfortunately I have so far) to view all the art in the Lourve in a book as opposed to not seeing it at all, I choose the reproductions, hoping to get there one day.

Of course I can't even paint my bedroom correctly.

PhotoDr -- , May 25, 1999; 01:17 P.M.

Phillip - I have to disagree with you. The wonder of art is not in reproductions. It is seeing the real work. Through many art history classes I have looked at various artists' work in books and seen it slide projected.

While this made me aware of the work it could never convey the "presence" and details that can only be appreciated by seeing the art itself. Three examples come to mind: Guernica, Blue Boy, and a work by Jackson Pollock. In each case, what was a mild appreciation of the art from the photograph changed to absolute awe when seen in person.

Art is not about just being made aware that it exists but experiencing it in person. Any institution that extends an opportunity to view more art in person is doing a public service. It is up to the individual to take advantage of it.

You seem to be critical because they didn't spend the money the way YOU would. Well, sometimes I don't like the way you run your forums - and your attitude is "if you don't like it, go somewhere else." I'd say the same to you about the Getty. If you don't like it don't patronize it. It's the Getty's money not yours.

TOMMY M , June 21, 1999; 03:51 A.M.



jack kirkpatrick , August 16, 1999; 10:38 P.M.

I think that Mr. Greenspun is in favor of the Getty's presentation and his text is a bit misleading as he does not really specifiy the actual thing he is endorsing. He does pose some very provocative questions and worthwhile of the thoughts of all who experience the virtual mediation the internet. Is art is just something that is an idea of the mind that can be got or is it something more... human..., I can sleep through a Cubs baseball game on television as well as anyone... it's definatly not a Wrigly Feild experience... no doubt. "are you experience? have you ever really been experiencd?"(jimi hendrix said it pretty well)... Sorry to mix my metaphors but sometimes its useful to seperate simulation and subject to expose the ovbious issues. The Getty looks like a lovely wonderful place I hope to visit someday. Great pictures too. Thanx for the chance for feedback. Sincerely, Jack Kirkpatrick

Ellis Vener , May 09, 2000; 07:08 P.M.

I visited "The Getty" for the first time in late Feb. 2000. The weather was not typical sunny Southern California, being cool and gray. My most striking impression is that the true work of art housed there is the building itself as an unfettered expression of some of the best ideas in architecture from the past twenty years. At the same time I think the art the complex houses is just okay. Visiting the Menil Collection in Houston is far more rewarding experience and a richer experience for the eye and the mind. You get a sense of how ideas play off of one another. The Getty collection reminds me of Charles Foster Kane's collection in his mansion Xanadu in the movie "Citizen Kane" : a lot of money spent to prove Mr. Getty had "good taste". Sort of like the cartoon character Charlie the Tuna in the old commercials for Starkist tuna.<P> Truly an outstanding building though. <P>My girlfriend and I enjoyed the walk down the hill from the collection back to the garage, I recommend it.

Peter Norquist , February 07, 2001; 05:20 P.M.

With over 100,000,000 households in the US, the Getty would be hard pressed to publish a fine art book and deliver it to everyone in the US for $1 billion.

Andreas Mueller , March 10, 2001; 10:23 P.M.

Why buying an expensive camera equipment ? There are so many excelent shots - and you can see them even for free. I think it's everybody's freedom to invest in what he wants, that's also valid for the Getty foundation and better it does't really harm.

Mark L.Power , June 11, 2001; 11:13 A.M.

I would agree with those who note that original art has a presence that reproductions can't reproduce. Even an original photograph has this presence. The paper the image is printed on, the colour of the print, the frame, the mat, the artist's signature and above all the scale are some ( or all) of the qualities of the original that a book repoduction slights. Then a day out at a museum, even if there is a queue, is more fun than staying at home looking at a book. Going to the Getty you get to experience architecture as well as other forms of art. I've never been but I look forward to going some day.

Victor Carroll

Matt O'Toole , October 26, 2001; 03:48 A.M.

Parking reservations are no longer required on weekends, but it costs five bucks- cash only. You can also take public transit. Use the neat trip planner on the MTA website to find the best way. If you drive, expect traffic jams at sunset- the view from up there is lovely, and the cat's out of the bag.

The Getty may not be the best art museum in the world, or even in LA. And I too can think of better ways to spend a billion bucks. But now that it's built, I'm sure glad we have it!

Quang-Tuan Luong , February 12, 2002; 05:08 P.M.

Photographers might be interested in knowing that tripods are not allowed, not only in the galleries, but also on the terraces. It's suggested that you check yours, but you don't have to. Fortunately, there is plenty of light, even inside the buildings.

Aaron van de Sande , February 28, 2002; 02:33 P.M.

Anyone thinks that a reproduction represents art should visit the Salvador Dali museum in Tampa. There is nothing liking seeing the 15ft "Hallucinogenic Toreador" in person.

Joseph Chen , May 07, 2002; 01:04 A.M.

While the Getty Museum is an architectural landmark, there is no question in my mind that it does not have the finest art collection in the city.

That collection is housed in Pasadena, at the Norton Simon Museum. The Norton Simon is certainly more low key than the Getty, but Mr. Simon was able to collect far more than Mr. Getty who arrived on the post-war art collection scene a little too late. If you like late 19th century European art as well as Old Masters, don't miss the Norton Simon.

Paul Viapiano , June 11, 2002; 06:32 P.M.

Phil's comments sound like they were written after a bad day... I don't know why he holds such a grudge against this place...it is a wonderful museum experience, an excellent example of one of modern architecture's masterworks and an institution that is trying to reach out to the city.

It may not have the best collection in the area, but so what? Since when is a museum supposed to be like a competitive football game?

Also, the photos don't do this place justice.

Steve Wall , December 23, 2002; 12:41 A.M.

Art is not only flat objects (paintings & photographs) but sculpture. It is impossible to experience a sculpture as a flat reproduction (usually of poor quality and with half tone dots)on a piece of paper. To totally experience a sculpture the viewer has to walk around it completely and perhaps lay on the floor or climb to a high vantage point. Light is of prime importance in viewing a sculpture. Sometimes they are lit well, sometimes with nothing. I bring a flash light with me when ever I plan on visiting any kind of museum. I always have a small one on my key chain as well as in my camera bag. Stef

Merrily McCarthy , May 11, 2003; 03:08 A.M.

It is my perception that the museum is more of a monument to the financial fulfillment of the acrhitect, making artistic compliments the least or even ludicrious, if not silly in their attempt at social importance.


Image Attachment: merrilylilly2000.jpg

Mad wand , May 10, 2004; 12:29 A.M.

I really enjoyed Philip Greenspun's light-hearted commentary and presentation. But I'd like to add the following observations from my visit there a few years ago. First is that it is a truly lovely place, and that photographs don't do it justice. Second is that I remember nothing of the art there. Go there if you can, and see it for yourself. I'd like to again someday. It's a good thing that that money went into creating something beautiful that people can almost freely enjoy.

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