bust of Getty
J. Paul Getty (1892-1976)

1939 marble bust by
Pier Gabrielle Vangelli (1899-1989)
The Getty Center
1200 Getty Drive
(access from N. Sepulveda Blvd.)

Los Angeles, California

Related Link
Architecture of the Getty Center
(photos from the 1990s)
Bronze Form
Bronze Form (1985)
by Henry Moore (1898-1986)
at lower tram station
Posted 12/24/2009

Atop the Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking the 405 Freeway, L.A., and the Pacific Ocean, the Getty Center opened on December 16, 1997. The museum is mostly devoted to European and European American works of art, propping a traditional American sociocultural perspective made somewhat ironic in a Pacific coast region with longtime Latino and Asian American populations (2011 update: Recent projects are trying to change this perception).
3D model of the Getty Center
inside the museum entrance hall
The architect for the giftbox museum buildings is Richard Meier (b. 1934), who used a foundation grid of 30" x 30" smooth white-enameled aluminum panels, contrastively accented by wall panels and square-paver floors of subtly porous off-white travertine (limestone) from Bagni di Tivoli, Italy (source: Map & Guide to the Getty Center, copyright 2007), where the stone has been quarried since ancient Rome. The travertine blocks were cut by guillotining along planes the original solution-bound limestone had settled some 8,000 years ago (sources: docent-led architecture tour; Explore the Architecture and Gardens pamphlet, copyright 2003). Leaf, feather, and other small fossils were exposed by this rock-splitting; there are four locations at the center where these fossils can be seen. So-called "feature stones," slightly offset and often differently sized, disrupt the flat contours of the travertine walls.
Since I visited during the winter, the white exteriors were overly demanding for attention amongst the denuded trees, but perhaps in the spring and summer, when the center's California sycamores, white crape myrtles, and London plane trees are full once more, the white would not appear as harsh but gently supportive, focusing the distracted eye to see the natural greenery.

Just a side note, if you live in the local area, unless you venture into the mountains you don't see fully white landscapes in the winter. To those of thus who are snowless, I wonder if seeing so much white is especially bothersome visually and psychologically, another reason why the color scheme might make the center more inviting during the summer.
grand stairway
Arrival Plaza
The red is what Irwin calls
a "kicker" color bringing
attention to what's around it.
A major counterpoint to the Getty Center's building architecture is the Central Garden offshoot designed by artist Robert Irwin (b. 1928). The garden starts next to the museum's entrance hall as an elevated straight channel of water, that drops a level via a vase-shaped wall groove and continues — made busy by rocks, plants, a zigzag path — until the fluid spine drops another level via a shallow-stepped fan into a bowl, thus erasing the surrounding city-and-ocean view, to end in a pool surrounding Kurume azalea shrubs that have been molded to form interlocked ripple-like mazes.

While a traditional public garden might sport signage identifying the plants, there is none in the Central Garden in order to privilege artistic over intellectual experience. (Lawrence Weschler's book on Robert Irwin is titled Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees.) As a person who neither experiences life primarily as an artist nor as a scientist, I do not see a conflict in having signage, but an artist would. Similarly, if you mostly relate to the world as a scientist, you might feel compelled to research what you saw like I did, which creates a lot of unofficial work often using secondary sources. I post "signage" on my photos since the design of the page is to offer not only a visual, sometimes artistic, documentary, but an educational one as well.
Photos copyright © late December 2009 Kat Avila
Time of Day: 11:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Camera: Canon SD780 IS
Notes: It had rained the night before, so the moisture-filled sky was a deeper blue than usual, aided by winds that blew out much of the smog, which made for clearer and broader panoramic views of the city and the ocean. Because it was winter, many of the center's trees were leafless, which allowed for stronger structural shots of the buildings and surrounding gardens. Is it possible to obtain a 360-degree unobstructed view of the area from the Getty Center? That I do not know, as I did not discover it.
On a good day, you can see all
the way to downtown L.A. and
even a double-blade helicopter.
Arrival Plaza and Museum Entrance Hall
That Profile
That Profile (1999)
by Martin Puryear
(b. 1941)
London plane tree
A London plane tree
pruned to optimize
the summer canopy.
grand stairway
Looking toward
Mt. Saint Mary's College,
Chalon Campus, from the
top of the Grand Stairway.
Air (1962)
by Aristide Maillol

Late afternoon shadows
break up the lead form.
California sycamore
California sycamore trees
rotunda skylights
rotunda skylights
lip of entrance hall
sky above edge
of floor canopy
travertine panels
Steel L-clamps affix the
travertine panels to concrete,
while air spaces allow them
to move freely during tremors.
looking north
from lookout point
outside stairway
of Exhibitions Pavilion
Walkway between East Building and Museum Entrance Hall
looking into entrance hall
from outside
How one tree…
…becomes many trees.
It's just a change
in perspective.
white crape myrtle trees,
star jasmine shrubs, and
rows of Spanish lavender
East Pavilion South Promontory
alcove pool and windows
alcove pool and windows
alcove walls
deep blue sky over
the alcove's walls
cactus garden
cactus garden
L.A. basin
Tall buildings of Century City
in the distance.
barrel cactus plants
barrel cactus plants
"The trouble with tribbles…"

West Pavilion Garden Terrace Café
view from the plaza garden
Boulder Fountain
Sculpture Terrace
Fran and Ray Stark
Sculpture Terrace
columns      columns
At sunset, the columns take on the golden honey
color of freshly quarried travertine because of
trace elements of yellow sulfur in the stone.
Central Garden
It is made up of three major sections: stream garden (beginning), plaza garden (middle), and bowl garden (end).
cistern pool
stream garden cistern pool
at bottom of the stairway
to the plaza garden
amphora grotto
amphora grotto
amphora grotto
amphora grotto
plaza garden
east side of plaza garden
Zigzag Path
Zigzag Path
tops of crape myrtle trees
bowl garden
bowl garden
bowl garden
bowl garden
A Peek at the Exhibits
Specimen (After Dürer) (2000)
by John Baldessari (b. 1931)
How 2D becomes 3D becomes 2D again:
Baldessari's giant 3D T-pin stabs the enlarged 2D print of
Albrecht Dürer's Stag Beetle (1505). In my photo, the pin
casts a shadow making it look like part of the original print.

How to make books
the hard way.
Lives of the rich & French.
King Louis XIV's cabinet
in the corner
clouds at sunset
framed sunset thru arch
near Research Institute
arrival plaza
Arrival Plaza and
Martin Puryear's That Profile
tram station
lower tram station
center at night
Getty Center on top of hill
(view from 405 Freeway)