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The Getty Center: the museum as a work of art

Using stone, glass and metal (and a billion dollar budget), architect Richard Meier created the Getty Center. The museum sits on top of a hill and visitors flock here not only for its extensive art collection but also for the magnificent architecture.

Oil tycoon J. Paul Getty was an avid art collector. His personal collection was worth millions and in 1954 he opened the J. Paul Getty Museum. The museum was housed in a part of his villa in Malibu. The art collection quickly outgrew the villa and Getty added a second villa, the Getty Villa, which is still open to the public. Unfortunately, he died before the construction was completed but he endowed a substantial part of his fortune to the museum. A large part of this sum was invested in the Getty Center which opened in 1997.

The J. Paul Getty Museum
The J. Paul Getty Museum

Los Angeles

The Getty Center: iconic architecture

Architectural masterpiece

The entire complex consists of 11 buildings surrounded by beautiful outdoor spaces, fountains and sculptures. Getty's art collection is so large that the 4 exhibit spaces in the Getty Center display only part of his collection. However, many people come not only for the art but also for the unusual architecture. Architect Meier combined his trademark smooth white surfaces with more traditional materials to reflect the feel of the Getty collection. Horizontal lines and square forms prevail. There are special architecture tours that highlight the vision and technique of the architect in great detail.

The sound of water

The beautiful Central Garden in the heart of the Getty Center was designed by artist Robert Irwin. A path leads visitors through the garden and follows a water course that eventually runs into a basin with a maze of azaleas. Along the way, listen to the changing sounds of the water: the stones in the water have been carefully placed to create various sound effects. The plants along the water were also specifically chosen for their texture and colour.
The gardens of the Getty Center
Van Gogh’s ‘Irises’ in the Getty Museum

International collections in the museum

The museum’s collection is divided over 4 buildings: the North, South, East and West Pavilions. The displays include art from Europe and North America, from the Middle Ages until today. Works of famous painters such as Van Gogh, Cézanne, Rembrandt and Renoir adorn the walls. In addition to 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, created by Italian sculptor Jacopo Sansovino in 1550.

Get a taste of the desert

Located just beyond the West Pavilion, the South Promontory is a replica of a desert landscape. The garden is full of plants in varying shades of blue, purple and grey that seamlessly merge with the vegetation on the rest of the hill. From here you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city. The architect has carefully planned each and every detail. From the parking lot at the bottom of the hill visitors board an electric tram that whisks them up to the Getty Center. Architect Meier designed the tram to literally lift people out of their daily routine.
The Getty Center, surrounded by vegetation