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Monday, October 24, 2011

The Getty Center

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, California, 1997, Richard Meir
For the inveterate museum goer, it's a little like dying and going to heaven. Indeed, the passage via tram up from the congested, urban sprawl of Los Angeles to that great Postmodern art museum in the sky is a little like passing on. For the art lover, the Getty Center may well be the closest thing to "Heaven on earth" we can imagine. It's 110 acres set high on a hill overlooking the Sepulveda Pass and much of the San Fernando Valley from ocean to mountains would be worth the trip even if one had to climb the slopes on foot. Moreover, in an era when conventional wisdom dictates that museums themselves be works of art, Architect, Richard Meir, no doubt enjoying the feeling of "playing God" with hundreds of millions of Getty dollars, has sculpted a glistening city in white that is, indeed, as much a work of art as the treasures it contains. Its five, two-story pavilions pay homage to a central open court with reflecting pools, fountains, sculpture, and greenery. The only thing it lacks are pearly gates.

The Holy Family with Infant St. John the Baptist,
1530, Michelangelo
If you can tear yourself away from the magnificent view, and the colorful, ordered perfection of the outside, inside, the Getty collection is world class, bespeaking the nearly unlimited funds the J. Paul Getty Trust has in which to indulge their taste in great art (actually $1.2 billion from the Getty estate in 1982, God only knows how much now). Its rich, travertine walls display everything from a drawing by Michelangelo (The Holy Family with Infant St. John the Baptist) to works as diverse Claude Monet (Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning) and David Hockney (Pearlblossom Hwy., 11-18 April, 1986, No. 2).  The collection encompasses over five hundred years of man's creative endeavors. If you're looking for the really old stuff, the antiquities are still housed at the other Getty Museum, a Roman style villa (below) near Getty's home original home in Malibu.

The Getty Villa, Malibu, California, 1974, Steven Garrett
The performing arts are not ignored either. The 450-seat Harold M. Williams Auditorium hosts musical performances as well as serving as a venue for films and lectures. For the art historian, there are 700,000 volumes to browse through, for the gourmet, restaurants overlooking the carefully crafted landscape (treated here as an art form in itself), and for the merely hungry, informal cafes Ronald McDonald would die for. Having gorged on first the art, then the food, it's the botanical paradise of artist, Robert Irwin's Central Garden, changed with the seasons (in Southern California? yeah, right) that delays your departure as you stroll amongst the bougainvillea, then across a stream, watching as it pours into a reflecting pool of floating azaleas. And lest you forget where you are, there's even a surprising little desert garden of native plant life tucked away near the South promontory. Well, the sun is setting low over the horizon, its orange glow casting a bittersweet warmth over the lovely house that Getty built. It's time to depart back to the purgatory of the real world. Could heaven really be better than this?

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