December 1997 the new J. Paul Getty Museum opened its doors. It is
the heart of the Getty Center, an imposing complex built by the Richard
Meier, internationally renowned architect, on the slopes of the Santa
Monica Mountains overlooking the city of Los Angeles. Beside the museum
it houses the Getty Research Institutes, a library, an Auditorium
for various presentations, restaurants and buildings for staff.
It is the third museum for the still growing collection of fine art and decorative art founded in the late 20ies of the 20th c. by J. Paul Getty, Californian oil magnate and businessman. In 1976 he bequeathed it to the Getty Trust together with a huge property with which to enlarge it systematically.
After two preceeding domiciles in Pacific Palisades and Malibu had become too small, the museum can now present its exhibits comfortably in four two-storey pavilions, while another pavilion is reserved for temporary exhibitions. Modern presentation techniques provide optimised conditions for visitors. Paintings e.g. are on show in the upper storeys where there is day light. A computer supported system regulates the light according to weather and day time. Decorative art and furniture are presented in rooms about the size of their original surrounding in order to provide an authentic impression. So called Art Information Centers in each pavilion offer written information, videos, computers where you can surf the museum's website and dedicated volunteer staff to answer any question. Besides the visitors' service offers guided tours in English and Spanish for individuals, school classes and families, lectures, workshops etc. Apparently it is aimed at making as many people as possible share the experience of a fine collection and boost public estimation for art. Both entrance and service offers are free. You are not even asked for donations.
The Getty Museum in its present shape provides an overview over the most important epochs of European art from Graeco-Roman antiquity unto classic modern art around 1900. Many acquisitions have been made since J. Paul Getty's death in 1976, among them many masterpieces, but the character of his private collection still shines through: He preferred antique art and decorative art of the 17th and 18th C. and that's where the collection still has got its strength.
Getty as a collector was both enthusiastic and economic. On a Grand Tour through Europe as a young man in 1913, the successful businessman had developed a predilection for European art and civilisation. So he made a habit of spending part of the year abroad if time allowed. When during the world economic crisis famous collectors like Hearst, Mellon or Rothschild withdrew from the art market and caused prices to fall he took advantage of the situation and bought e.g. paintings by van Goyen and Rembrandt rather cheaply. In 1936 he started to buy decorative art on a large scale since fear of war kept down auction prices.
After the war Getty resumed his collecting activities. His new priority became antique sculpture, starting with the "Lansdowne Herakles", a Roman copy of a Greek statue of Herakles, second quarter 4th c.B.C. and several objects from the Earl of Elgin's collection, among them the "Elgin Kore", first third 5th c.B.C. Until his death he had a preference for Greek and Roman art. Another major field of interest became Italian renaissance painting.
After the war Getty had donated prime objects of his collection to Californian museums, such as Rembrandt's portrait of Marten Looten, 1632, or the so-called Ardabil-Carpet, a precious Persian carpet of the 16th c.A.D. However, he eventually decided to present the highlights of his growing collection himself and in 1954 he opened the first Getty Museum in his Ranch in Pacific Palisades, L.A. At the same time he founded a trust whose purpose was to be the "diffusion of artistic and general knowledge", and which today is responsible for the Getty Center with the Getty Museum.
Getty was a tactical but at the same time a passionate collector. He did research on his acquisitions and published several books about his experiences as an art collector. Without false modesty he compared himself to other great patrons of art like the Roman emperor Hadrian or his contemporary W.R. Hearst and confirmed this assessment by building a new, grand museum for his collection, a recreation of the Roman "Villa dei Papiri" from Herculaneum in Malibu, L.A., between 1970 and 1974. Getty wanted the "Villa" to be his gift to the people of California, where the best pieces of his collection should be presented completely free and with generous opening hours. Since it was his conviction that no city, state nor even the federal government in Washington would be in a position to grant such a generous offer, he left the museum in the hands of the Getty Trust and on his death in 1976 bequeathed it oil shares worth 700 million $. It was then that Getty's private collection grew into an internationally significant museum with a strong department for visual arts education, research institutes for conservation and the preservation of national heritage, a comprehensive art library etc. The collection was systematically enlarged, often by acquiring specialised private collections.
Under these conditions the "Villa" had become too small after 10 years. The Getty Trust then developed the idea of a campus for a spacious new museum building along with research and education capacities: the Getty Center on the outskirts of Los Angeles. John Walsh, then museum director, and the architect Richard Meier conceived the complex which was executed from 1989 to 1997.
The Getty Center is situated in a vast park. Visitors can reach it via the electric tram which connects the site with the parking area. Enormous substructions of Italian travertine support the campus on its lengthy slope. Richard Meier chose a grid of 30 inch squares as basis for the whole complex, while the buildings are mostly variations of the cube. However, Meier's design is not dogmatic. The museum entrance with its horizontally structured facade e.g. is rhythmically swaying back and forth, the Research Institute has been shaped as a rotunda, and there are more exceptions to the rule. The outside appearance is characterised by white square enamelled aluminium plates and the light tone of the travertine, partly neatly cut, partly roughly hewn. Inside white dominates as well. Large windows open the facades on the north sides, while solid walls keep the Californian sun out on the south.
The architecture of the Getty Center is defined by numerous voids which break up the cubic system, too. Courtyards, light-shafts, miniature plazas between diagonally placed or underneath propped up parts of a building, openings in the walls which frame the sky and portals which frame the views - all this adds space to the architecture. The effect is that of baroque volume and at the same time of filigree structure. While the right angle prevails there are nevertheless picturesque views, shady corners, meditative and communicative zones, accentuated by plants, stones and water. Water channels, brooks, fountains and pools permeate the architecture and the gardens and make the semi-arid climate more tolerable.
was given to the shaping of the exterior, especially to the Cactus
Garden on the south side and to the Central Garden with its maze of
azaleas amid a pool, the latter being conceived by the artist John
Irwin. The gardens and the park are composed of vernacular and exotic
plants, among them more than 10.000 trees. There are multiple formal
and symbolic relations between details of the architecture and of
the gardens. The rotund Central Garden e.g. which is twisted into
the ground answers to the towering rotund Research Institute. Plants
with warm or cool colours indicate the south or north sides respectively.
Specimen of Mediterranean vegetation - lavender, stone pines etc.
- and the omnipresent Italian travertine from a quarry that had already
been used to build the Coliseum in Rome evoke the spirit of antiquity,
the epoch which figures so prominently in Getty's collection. The
gardens of the Getty Center are meant to be works of art in their
own right which together with the architecture form a congenial and
representative environment for an outstanding collection.
Assembled between 1939 and 1970 they form one of the most eminent collections of ancient art in the States. While Getty had concentrated primarily on sculpture, other genres were added after his death, viz. Cycladic marble figurines, vase painting which is now the most important group, Roman bronzes and small scale works of art like gems, jewellery and glass objects. Recently the collection Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman with important objects from Bronze Age to late antiquity was added.
a small number of antiquities can be presented, they are still impressive.
There are monumental sculptures like a godess from South Italy, last
quarter 5th c.B.C., made of marble and limestone. Then there are life-size
sculptures, e.g. the aforementioned "Lansdowne Herakles",
the Roman copy of a Greek original of the school of Polyktet, second
quarter 4th c.B.C., which was found in Hadrian's villa at Tivoli,
or a Greek bronze sculpture of a victorious youth (feet lost), last
quarter 4th c.B.C., which reflects the style of Lysippos. Most astonishing
is a West Greek group of three almost life-size terracotta figures,
a seated poet and two standing sirens perhaps from Taranto, ca. 310
A remarkable piece
is a lekanis, a shallow marble basin with rather well preserved painting
in blue, red and ochre, representing Thetis with Nereids. It is dated
in the late 4th c.B.C. and its provenance is again South Italy. The
catalogue points out that the basin is unique in that it gives an
impression of Greek polychrome painting that has more or less disappeared.
Medieval art is
represented by book illumination. In 1983 the comprehensive manuscript
collection of Peter and Irene Ludwig was acquired and formed the basis
of this department. It comprises the epoch from the 9th to the 16th
c.A.D. and presents artists of all important centres of book illumination
like the Boucicaut-Master, Jean Fouquet, Simon Marmion, Simon Bening
or Joris Hoefnagel. They worked for patrons like the Duchess of Burgundy,
Margarete of York, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg or the Emperor
Books of hours
abound, most of them from France and Burgundy. The elegant, refined
style of the Limburg brothers can be seen in an example with illustrations
of the Spitz-Master, first quarter 15th c. A prayer book of Charles
the Bold, 1469, attributed to the Master of Mary of Burgundy, shows
exuberant ornamental borders.
J. Paul Getty had always collected paintings from all epochs up to the modern classic period, but not really seriously, since he realised that most of the best works were already in the possession of museums and that the market had to offer only second rate quality. Among his most ambitious acquisitions are Rembrandt's portrait of Marten Looten (1632), which he donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Gainsborough's portrait of James Christie, founder of the well-known auction house (1778). Already 10 years before his death Getty handed over responsibility for the museum's painting department to the Trust which pursues the aim to form a small, but high class collection. Getty's priorities had been Italian baroque and renaissance painting as well as portraits and genre scenes from the Netherlands. The Trust has added a broad spectrum of Dutch, French and English painting with occasional outlooks to other European nations.
So the painting department contains Italian altar panels by renowned artists from the Trecento onward, such as Bernardo Daddi's Saint Mary Triptych, ca. 1330, in the tradition of Giotto and Massaccio's Saint Andrew, 1426, with the physical volume typical of that artist. Mantegna, painter to the Gonzaga court, is present with a much darkened tempera painting of the Adoration of the Magi (between 1495 and 1505). The bust-high figures are tightly packed in the manner of Roman reliefs. Since the canvas seems to have been cut on all sides, the composition appears unusually intense and dramatic. There are works by Pontormo, del Piombo and Guercino, portraits of nobles and popes which testify the reception of Titian. A rather mediocre version of "Venus and Adonis" by Titian himself and his workshop, ca. 1555-1560, suggests that the workshop's share was indeed considerable.
from the North is represented by a beautiful Annunciation by Bouts
(1450 - 1455) and a "Madonna and Child in a Window" (1485
- 1490) by Schongauer. An uncommon feature in the context of such
an intimate window scene is the hovering angel holding crown and scepter
as is the translucent white with which he is painted on a dark background.
The collection possesses several works by Rembrandt, mostly of the 1630ies: "The Abduction of Europe", "Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel" an "Old Man in Military Costume", the "Abduction" being the weakest. A painting in his mature style from 1661, a man in half figure, weary and absorbed in thought, is extraordinary. Identified as possibly Saint Bartholomew, because of a knife in his hand, the elderly man sits there in apparently contemporary dress, his short hair parted on the side, with his chin resting in one hand (not completely convincing anatomically). The painter is reported to have taken his neighbours as models for saints' portraits in the early 60ies. Even more astonishing is the pasty colour that does not smoothen the modelling of the form and the traces of the brush strokes. Painting itself becomes the subject of the picture, in a manner which one expects rather in the 19th c. than in the mid 17th c.
painting can be viewed in works by Georges de la Tour and Poussin.
The first has delivered an example of his cold and close eye on people
from the social periphery in a genre painting of quarrelling street
musicians (ca. 1625 - 1630). The latter's "Landscape with a Calm"
(1650/51) and Holy Familiy with Anna, the boy John and putti (1651)
are somewhat overloaded with effects.
The collection of French impressionist painting boasts several chef-d'oeuvres: Millet's "Man with a Hoe", 1860 - 1862, Renoir's "Promenade", 1870, a "Sunrise" by Monet, 1873, one piece of a series of early morning impressions in Le Havre, which became paradigmatic for the impressionist way of painting, and finally Manet's "Rue Mosnier with Flags", 1878.
The Getty Museum possesses two paintings by Cézanne, a "Still Life with Apples", 1893 - 1894, and the half-length portrait of a "Young Italian Woman at a Table", ca. 1895 - 1900. Both works belong to Cézanne's mature oeuvre. The "Italian Woman" is remarkable in more than one respect. The young female in a three-quarter profile is fitted diagonally in the polyperspective space defined by the room corner and the table. There is no doubt about her physical presence, even the puffy sleeve of her blouse swells towards the onlooker. At the same time, the white of her blouse, the blue of her frock, the table cloth's red and green and the reddish brown of the walls form the basic accord of a tightly woven, plane colour composition. The painting appears both flat and three-dimensional, a paradox simultaneity which together with the warm, sensuous colouring bestows a particular quality upon it.
In its endeavour
to collect famous names the Trust acquired characteristic works of
good quality by El Greco, Goya, C.D. Friedrich, Turner and van Gogh
which represent the painting of their respective time and nation.
The department closes with a wall high Ensor, depicting "Christ's
Entry into Brussels, 1889" (1888), one of the most ambitious
but not necessarily most convincing painting by the Belgian proto-expressionist.
Started only after
Getty's death the collection of drawings has now grown to more than
600 sheets and sketch books which document the West European development
from the 14th to the 19th c.A.D. It comprises all distinctive names,
among them Dürer, Leonardo, Raphael, Veronese, Rembrandt, Rubens,
Ingres, Cézanne. Since drawings are sensitive to light they
are only on show alternately for short periods.
as a collector have already been mentioned. While the market for paintings
was tight, it offered first class antiques for an adequate price.
Until 1960 he had acquired French furniture, carpets, tapestries and
objets d'art more or less spontaneously and unsystematically. But
after envisaging a new museum in 1974 he revised his buying strategies
and specialised on the period between 1643 and 1792, from the early
regency of Louis XIV to the late years of Louis XVI. Since Getty's
death other European countries like Germany and Italyhave been considered,
too. Only top quality objects are bought which accounts for occasional
conflicts with national curbs on export.
the manufactories Beauvais and Gobelins for the King himself and members
of the royal family give evidence of the stylistic development from
the middle of the 17th to the late 18th c.
for the households of the court, but also for connoisseurs like the
Bavarian Elector Maximilian II., produced mainly in Paris by masters
like André-Charles Boulle, Bernard II van Risenburgh, David
Roentgen and others is displayed in great variety: desks, commodes,
tables, cupboards and beds as well as clocks and optical instruments.
Among the numerous lavishly decorated pieces there stands out a particular
rarity, an elegant, unpretentious reading and writing desk of walnut
and oak, veneered with ivory, horn and various sorts of wood and gilded,
which had been part of Louis XIV' personal belongings (ca. 1670 -
Since 1984 the
Getty Trust collects sculpture from early Renaissance to the end of
the 19th c. as well as small size objects, which are summarised under
the name "works of art" and are made of materials like ceramics,
glass and metal.
Founded also in
1984 the department of photography is for the time being the Getty
Museum's only concession to the art of the 20th c. As with the medieval
manuscripts the bulk stems from the acquisition of eminent private
collections, viz. those of Samuel Wagstaff, Arnold Crane, Bruno Bischofberger
and Volker Kahmen/George Heusch.
As documents two daguerreotypes deserve mentioning, the portrait of Louis-Jaques-Mandé Daguerre, one of the fathers of the new art technique, taken by Charles R. Meade in 1848, and the anonymous portrait of the author Edgar Allen Poe (1849). Early examples of photo reportage are among others Alexander Gardner's photograph of President Abraham Lincoln on the battlefield of Antietam, 1862, or the social criticism of Dorothea Lange's photo series which document the suffering of rural labourers in California during the Great Depression in the 30ies of the 20th c.
There are examples
of early experimental photography such as exposures without camera
on light sensitive paper (Hippolyte Bayard, Anna Atkins and others,
mid 19th c.) or Edgar Degas' female nude seen from the back, 1896.
They mark the beginning of a structure-orientated photographic tradition
which is represented by Alfred Stieglitz, Kertész, Albert Renger-Patzsch
The new Getty Center with the J. Paul Getty Museum is an outstanding museum site and one of the main attractions in Los Angeles, even though there is no shortage of noteworthy museums in that city. California has got a new cultural highlight.
are of good, but with a few exceptions not of extraordinary quality,
neither in international nor even in national comparison. One needs
to think only of the Metropolitan Museum in New York which admittedly
has got the advantage of having started almost 100 years earlier.
No mistaking: The Getty Museum provides a solid survey on the development
of fine art in the Old World and attractive outlooks on special fields
of interest such as decorative art. For a private museum depending
on one patron only this is a remarkable achievement. But I do not
think it will attract an international museum tourism nor an international
architecture tourism. Richard Meier's campus impresses as a solution
for a specific and extraordinary site, yet it is rather a variation
of his repertoire than a vision.
Alle Rechte bei der Autorin und VL Museen
Dokument erstellt am 2.10.2002