J. Paul Getty Museum and Providence

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
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Trip End Oct 14, 2011


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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, May 31, 2011




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I started off my visit to Los Angeles by going to the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center. It's a large complex of buildings overlooking Los Angeles from Brentwood Hills. To get there from my hotel requires getting on the 405, a highway well-known for its congestion.  After living in Northern Virginia, I felt right at home .

When you first arrive at the Getty Center you enter a large parking garage and have to pay $15 per car. I didn't know it at the time, but this is the only expense for visiting the museum. After spiraling around and around in the large garage until finally finding a space, I took an elevator back up to the top, expecting to find a museum. Instead I found the tram (Actually, it's a funicular that runs on rubber tires so tram doesn't seem like the best word to use but that's what they call it.) that you must use for the five minute, 3/4 mile trip to the museum.

When you exit the tram you're surrounded by a dazzling white complex of buildings designed by Richard Meier. In addition to the J. Paul Getty Museum these buildings house the Getty Foundation, the Getty Trust, the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Conservation Institute. The walkways and much of the building exteriors are beige Italian travertine. The metal portions of the buildings are aluminum with an off-white enamel finish. It's very bright in the southern California sun.

All the buildings were designed and built at the same time and by the same architect and are all the same style. When you get off the tram it's hard to tell where you're supposed to go next. Most visitors are, like me, only here for the museum.  The sign at the tram station says something about watching the 10 minute introductory film.  I found the auditorium on their map and headed there.  That's not where they show the movie.  After a couple more wrong buildings I eventually made it to the Museum Entrance Hall, which contains two theaters where the movie is shown. I watched the movie and then set out to explore the museum.

The museum is contained in five "Pavilions" designated the North Pavilion (not to be confused with the North Building), South Pavilion, East Pavilion (not to be confused with the East Building), West Pavilion and Exhibitions Pavilion. You'd think that it would be easy to figure out which was which with four named after the compass points but I didn't find that to be the case. It doesn't help that the North and East Pavilions are in a line, the South Pavilion and the courtyard form a second parallel line and the West and the Exhibitions Pavilions are in a third parallel line across the courtyard from the North and East Pavilions.  That's not the way I think of the points of a compass.  A map is available to help you find your way around but the map has with no compass rose and, if it had one, it would show north pointing somewhere toward the lower left corner instead of to the top as you'd expect.  I didn't see any compass roses in the courtyard either.  Knowing which way is north would make finding the North Pavilion so much easier.

Navigation didn't get any easier after I entered the pavilions. The Getty web site says, "Throughout the Museum, there is a freedom of choice, with routes that are fluid and criss-crossing. One can explore the galleries in sequence or at random, at first-or second-story level, without having to retrace one’s steps. Because of the interplay of interior and exterior space, between gallery and garden, one always knows where one is and where one has been." Well, it's possibly true that one can explore the galleries without having to retrace one's steps after you've learned your way around but that's not possible on your first visit using only their map and the additional maps contained in most of the pavilions.

I'm not sure what to make about the statement about the interplay of interior and exterior space. One of the nice features of the complex is that there are lots of doors, which seems terrible from a conservation standpoint, but which allow you to go out on a balcony or a courtyard and look around or take one of the covered walkways between pavilions.  Unfortunately, that doesn't help you much as you navigate the gallery space since I don't recall any galleries that have windows and certainly none with doors. To get outside requires navigating some hallways giving you time to forget how the galleries you can no longer see were oriented.

The buildings are all interconnected. In some places they're so interconnected that you can't tell where one ends and the next begins. That means you can enter the North Pavilion, wander through a gallery, which you would probably assume is contained within a single pavilion, take an elevator down, which you would probably assume is also within a single pavilion, and then discover that not only are you now in the South Pavilion but that you must have somehow gone through the East Pavilion to get there. I like to think I toured the entire museum but with the confusing layout, it's impossible to be sure.

The museum's collection includes European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and European and American photographs.  The upper floor in each of four pavilions contain European paintings.  They range from the 1200's until the early 1900's.  The ground floor of the same four pavilions house their European sculpture, illuminated manuscripts and decorative arts collections.  Their decorative arts collection has an emphasis on France, in general, and the Louis XIV, XV and XVI time periods, in particular, and is very good.  Like their art collection, it does not extend up to the present day. 

The basement of one (Or was it two?  I wasn't quite sure which pavilion I was in and it might run between two of them.) pavilion houses their photography collection. (Actually, there is a large structure under the entire museum complex that is closed to the public.  The pavilions sit on top of this large structure.  What seems like a basement and is called L2 on their maps is the upper floor of this lower structure.  For the most part, you are never aware the lower structure is there.  The photography exhibit is the only part of this lower structure open to the public.)  The space was being used for the temporary exhibit titled A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now.  The exhibit had photographs divided up into three time periods: before and during the revolution; after the revolution and before the fall of the Soviet Union; and the present.

The Exhibitions Pavilion is used for temporary exhibits.  The exhibit on display when I was there was called Paris, Life & Luxury.  It showed objects that a rich Parisean during the the time of Louis XV, from 1723-1774, would use indoors, grouped according to the time of day that they would be used.  The objects included paintings, furniture, clothing, china, porcelain, silver, jewelry, musical instruments, clocks and games.

The museum is quite large.  I believe, at least in some areas such as photography, that the vast majority of their collection is in storage, making it hard to judge their collection in just one visit, but it's obvious just from the works on display that their collection is quite extensive.  They have a lot of depth in many of the areas they cover.  I like modern and contemporary art and the Getty's collection stops shortly after 1900 so there were few paintings of interest to me but I liked their decorative arts collection.

I went to Providence for dinner.  It is one of four restaurants given a two-star rating by Michelin in 2009, the last year they rated restaurants in Los Angeles.  No L.A. restaurants were awarded three stars.  I had seen Providence mentioned in an article about molecular gastronomy and thought I'd give it a try.

They offer three tasting menus: five courses, full tasting and chef's menu.  There were no vegetarian tasting menus.  Although they accept reservations at 9:00, such as mine, and it says on the menu that the chef's menu is available until then, I was told that the chef's menu was no longer available due to the length of time it takes.

I ordered the full tasting, which is nine courses.  Many of the courses contain seafood.  I talked to the server about making substitutions but, since they specialize in seafood, there wasn't much that could be done.  I did get one course changed to a truffled risotto dish, which cost an additional $20.

The decor of the room was fine but, for some reason, it seemed like it was a patio that had been enclosed.  The service was fine.  The food was very good although there are no dishes that really stood out to me. 
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