At Large  April 17, 2020  Megan D Robinson

The Getty Museum in 11 Intriguing Facts

© 2003 J. Paul Getty Trust, Scott Frances/Esto

Getty Research Institute

One of the most popular museums in the US, the J. Paul Getty Museum averages almost 2 million visitors a year. Its encyclopedic art collection spans 6000 years, including everything from paintings and drawings to illuminated manuscripts, photography, and sculpture, and requires two locations to house it all. Oil tycoon and art enthusiast J. Paul Getty added a museum wing to his Malibu ranch in 1954, then moved his growing collection to a reconstructed Italian villa in 1974, and finally relocated most of the museum's collection to the stunning J. Paul Getty Museum Center in Los Angeles in 1996. Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities remained at the Getty Villa, which was renovated and redecorated in 2006. Here are some things you may not know about the Getty.

© J. Paul Getty Trust, Stacey Rain Strickler

1. Admission is free. Additionally, to promote art appreciation, all images the Getty owns rights to are in the public domain, which means over 100,000 images are free to download through their Open Content Program. 

2. Lead architect Richard Meier beat out fierce competition to design the $733 million Getty Center. Set on 110 acres overlooking the Pacific, the Getty Center took 14 years to finish. Designed to harmonize with the surrounding landscape, the stunning curvilinear complex is laid out along two natural ridges, and perches 900 feet above I-405 like a post-modern temple. Both solid and airy, its limestone archways and balconies frame extraordinary views. 

3. Its concrete and steel frame is covered with polymer-coated aluminum and travertine limestone mined from the same quarry used for the Roman Colosseum. Visitors often hunt for fossils in the travertine tiles.

flickr/Thad Zajdowicz

4. Twenty-eight sculptural masterpieces by artists as diverse as Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi are displayed throughout the grounds, centered in the Sculpture Garden and Sculpture Terrace.

5. The Getty has been embroiled in some provenance issues: after inadvertently purchasing stolen art, they were required to make returns to Italy and Greece in 1999, 2006 and 2016.

6. More than just a museum, the Getty is also involved in research, conservation, grant support and publication. Their vast online library has over 350 downloadable books and over 165,000 online texts covering a variety of topics.

Getty Museum

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1889.

7. The star of their collection, Van Gogh’s Irises, is one of the most expensive paintings of all time. Sold for $53.9 million in 1987, Irises was acquired by the museum for an unnamed sum in 1990. 

8. Inspired by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, the Getty launched a popular quarantine social media challenge. Participants recreate favorite art pieces using three or more household objects, using the hashtags #betweenartandquarantine and #tussenkunstenquarataine.

Left: The J. Paul Getty Museum's Male Harp Player of the Early Spedos Type, 2700–2300 B.C., Cycladic. Marble. Right: Recreation by Irena Ochódzka with canister vacuum.

9. Goats are rented every spring to eat brush on the surrounding hills, which helps with fire prevention, and an underground water tank and helipad are available for firefighter use.

10. The Getty has a number of online art appreciation options to help with quarantine boredom. Much of their collection is digitized, with accompanying videos and audio tours, including a poignant video filmed right before lockdown about their current Michelangelo exhibition. The Getty also produces YouTube channels and two podcasts.

11. The Getty’s high tech laboratories include six highly accomplished full-time mount-makers who design special mounting systems that protect sculpture, furniture, and wall-mounted art from earthquake damage.

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

Subscribe to our free e-letter!

Art and Object Marketplace - A Curated Art Marketplace