Side Trip: The Getty Center, Los Angeles

Perched in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, The Getty Center is one of Los Angeles’ most popular tourist attractions. The sprawling campus houses the museum of J. Paul Getty, once the world’s richest man and America’s preeminent art collector. Exhibiting Western art from the Middle Ages to the present day, the museum features European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, stained glass, and photography. The Getty Museum famously acquired Van Gogh’s Irises in 1990 at the then record-breaking cost of between $50 and $60 million (the actual amount has never been revealed.) Designed by architect Richard Meier, the post-modern-style center was constructed using 16,000 tons of imported Italian travertine. Its four main pavilions (named for directions on the compass – North, South, East and West) surround a central courtyard, which is a popular gathering place. Besides the museum, there are also buildings for the Conservation and Research Institutes, an Auditorium, a restaurant, and several beautiful outdoor areas too.

The Getty Center opened to the public in December of 1997.  I was fortunate to be among the first guests, when my grandmother obtained tickets for our family on its opening weekend. I’ve only been back three or four times in the past thirteen years, but every time I’ve gone I am most impressed by the stunning architecture. Also, from the various gardens and terraces, visitors are rewarded with unbelievable panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles to the east and the sparkling Pacific Ocean to the west.

A temporary exhibit that initially drew my attention (because of the banners all around town) was the “Gods of Angkor,” a collection of bronze deities from the ancient capital of the Khmer people. On loan from the National Museum of Cambodia, several sculptures from the 9th – 13th centuries of Shiva, Ganesha, Vishnu, and other Hindu gods were on display.

I was also really impressed with an installation of photographs by Felice Beato called “A Photographer on the Eastern Road.” Beato photographed much of East Asia, including China, Japan, Burma, Korea, and India from the late 1800s until his death in 1909. It really amazed me that his images were the first glimpses of Asia that most Westerners ever saw.

One of the biggest highlights of The Getty Center is the Central Garden. Designed by Robert Irwin, he called it “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.” Visitors zigzag along a pathway that takes them through various fragrant gardens to a large pond. At its center is a maze of over four hundred crimson, white, and pink azaleas that appear to be floating in the water. Being that it was March when I visited, most of the garden was not in bloom yet and the trees were still leafless. However, come spring it will be a riot of color as hundreds of varieties of flora come to life.

Admission to the Getty Center is always free to everyone. There’s an enormous seven-story subterranean parking structure at the base of the hillside adjacent to I-405 (or as we Angelenos call it, “The Four-Oh-Five.”) Parking costs $15 per vehicle. Then, visitors queue up to ride an electric, cable-driven tram to the top of the mountain. It snakes along the curves of the hill, on a five-minute ride through the Sepulveda Pass.  Finally, the majestic Getty Center becomes visible, crowning the hilltop.

[Admission: Free! Open Tuesday – Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.; Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.; Closed Mondays. Address: 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California 90049. Access to The Getty Center is only via the main gate on N. Sepulveda Boulevard. (310) 440-7300 http://www.getty.edu/visit/

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