Tuesday, March 24, 2009

San Diego, Part 5 (Getty Center in Los Angeles)

On Thursday, March 12, my father, my wife and I drove north to enjoy the J. Paul Getty Museum in Brentwood northwest of Los Angeles. The museum's permanent collection includes pre-20th-century European paintings, drawing, illuminated manuscripts, sculpture, and decorative arts, including three Rembrandt and Van Gogh's Irises.

The drive north from northern San Diego County was hectic, especially from Long Beach northward. Fortunately, because we had three passengers in our car, we could use the HOV lane most of the way, but even the HOV lane clotted as we approached downtown Los Angeles. We arrived at the museum after 2-1/2 hours.

Visitors park in a 7-story underground garage at the entrance to the complex, then board a tram that ferries them 900 feet to the top of the Santa Monica Mountains and the gleaming Getty Center.

The museum and associated research institute are located on a 24-acre campus surrounded by 600 acres kept in their natural state. From the balustrades at the museum, we could see the Los Angeles skyline, the San Bernadino Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean.

The stunning complex was designed by Richard Meier, who took full advantage of the site's two diverging ridges. One ridge contains the four gallery buildings, and the other ridge contains the administrative and research buildings. The buildings themselves are constructed of concrete and steel clad with travertine and white aluminum. Numerous fountains are scattered throughout the campus, and extraordinarily rigid formal gardens anchor the southern part of the complex. These gardens should have appealed to my extreme anal-retentive side, but they were just too formal, even for me.

We arrived just in time for an 11 a.m. guided "highlights" tour of some of the museum's best pieces of furniture, sculpture, and paintings. Then we had lunch on one of the terraces--sitting in the sunshine to maintain our warmth in the chilly breeze. After eating, we ventured back into some of the galleries to enjoy the Impressionist and Renaissance paintings. By 3:30, we had all experienced "museum fatigue" and got ready to return to San Diego.

I was bowled over by the architecture at the Getty Center, and we certainly enjoyed the museum's collections but, frankly, after visiting St. Petersburg, Russia, two years ago, it's hard to top the largest collection of artwork in the world housed at the Hermitage.

Photography is permitted inside the Getty, but I only made one image: a Meissen porcelain turkey. I collect turkey figurines (and own a tiny Meissen turkey), but this piece was nearly the size of a full-grown turkey. It, and an accompanying animal figure, were designed to be the largest porcelain figures ever created up to that point in ceramic history, and both were complete failures--shot through with cracks and crevices. As a result, they were never glazed. Technology had not progressed to the point that the master ceramicists at Meissen could produce figures of this size.
Our trip back to San Diego County also took 2-1/2 hours, with heavy traffic in the same spots we encountered it in the morning.

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