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The Getty Center: A work of art in itself

Architect Richard Meier used stone, glass and steel (and a billion-dollar budget) to create the Getty Center. The museum situated at the top of a hill attracts visitors both for its extensive collection of art and in recognition of the brilliant architecture.

Oil magnate J. Paul Getty was a fervent art collector. His personal collection was worth millions and in 1954 he opened the J. Paul Getty Museum in a section of his villa in Malibu. The villa soon became too small to house his collection and Getty had a second one built (the Getty Villa, which is also open to visitors). He died just before this was completed but left a substantial part of his fortune to the museum. A large portion was invested in the Getty Center, which opened in 1997.

Architectural feat

The Getty Center architecture Los Angeles

The complex consists of eleven buildings surrounded by stunning outdoor spaces, fountains and sculptures. The Getty art collection is so large that the Getty Center’s four exhibition spaces are only capable of showing part of the entire collection. The exceptional architecture really stands out. Architect Meier combined his signature style (smooth, white surfaces) with more classic materials to complement the Getty collection. Horizontal lines and squares set the tone. Special architectural tours provide an in-depth insight into the architect’s vision and technical achievement.

1. The sound of water

The beautiful Central Garden at the heart of the Getty Center was designed by artist Robert Irwin. A path draws visitors through the garden and follows a stream that eventually leads to a pool containing a floating maze of azaleas. Listen out for the changing sound of the stream along the way: Stones are placed in the water in a particular way in order to create special aural effects. The plants alongside the water are not placed randomly either – they are grouped according to their texture and colour.

2. In the museum

The museum’s collection is spread over four buildings: The north, south, east and west pavilions. They exhibit art from Europe and North America, and from the Middle Ages to the present day. Great works by painters such as Van Gogh, Cézanne, Rembrandt and Renoir adorn the walls. As well as paintings, Getty also collected sculptures and decorative art. One of the best-known pieces in the collection is the bronze statue of Venus and Cupid from 1550, by the Italian sculptor Jacopo Sansovino.

3. Desert landscape

The Getty Center Los Angeles

The South Promontory is an artificial desert landscape located beyond the western pavilion. The garden is full of plants in shades of blue, purple and grey, which seamlessly blend in with the vegetation on the rest of the hill. This location also offers a magnificent view of the city.

The architect has left no details to chance, starting with the car park at the bottom of the hill. An electric tram transports visitors up to the Getty Center and Meier’s intention with this was to literally lift people up and away from their everyday concerns.

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