The J. Paul Getty Trust, with its $4.2 billion endowment (from oil--what else?), is the world's richest art institution and the one the other museums love to hate due to its ability to outbid anyone, inflating art world prices along the way. The Getty Center is its $1 billion+ Richard Meier-designed showpiece, which serenely watches over Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean from its 110-acre hillside perch. How does one go about spending that kind of money? For starters, while there is a charge for parking, there's no entrance fee (in 2008 they welcomed 1.8 million visitors) in this museum that houses a large collection of Western art and decorative arts (like the amazing French clock below--see that clambering monkey?). The pieces date from the Middle Ages to the present. There are the Caravaggios, the Rembrandts, the Renoirs, the Picassos, just to name-drop a bit. Then there are the series of pavilions themselves, built using more than 16,00 tons of Italian Travertine marble and the white metal panel cladding favored by Meier. This is the antithesis of Frank Gehry's effervescent Bilbao Guggenheim. While grand by virtue of sheer scale, long sightlines and the measured balance of its curves and straight lines, the Getty Center is above all serene. You slow down, your eyes have room to travel.
The art has room to breathe--and plenty of gorgeous natural light. Photos are allowed (!), without flash--except of photos on exhibit (?). The architect used a lot of white, somewhat broken up by pools of water and when you move from one building to another, the brightness really startles. It must be simply blinding in summer. If it rains, there are umbrellas at the ready door-side. If you become hungry (this easily becomes a day-long visit), the food options are good, but bringing a picnic seems only natural given the space and seating options.
If old paintings leave you cold, there are the buildings. If architecture isn't your deal, there are the gardens. If gardens don't rock your world, there is the view, from innumerable vantage points, indoors and out. If I had to do it over, I would have stayed for the sunset; on Saturdays after 5 pm there is no fee for parking. How the sprawling LA nightscape must glitter.