Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Getty Villa

Thursday Polly, my Pops and I headed up the coast to Malibu to visit the Getty Villa. We enjoyed the Villa and lunch at a seafood joint on the beach.

Oil magnate J. Paul Getty used some of his vast wealth to amass an incredible art and antiquities collection, first displayed in his ranch house on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. In the early 70s, he had a Romanesque villa constructed next to his house to be a permanent museum for his collection. The Malibu Villa, modeled after the partially excavated Villa dei Papiri in Italy, became the home of the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1974. In 1997, the Getty Villa was closed and the collection was relocated to the new hill-top Getty Center in Brentwood (Los Angeles).

After a nine-year, $275 million renovation and expansion the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa has re-opened as home to the Museum’s Antiquities Collection. The Villa and gardens will be familiar to those who visited in the past. The original building was stripped down to the bare framework and re-built as an earthquake-resistant, enhanced version of itself. The rest of the canyon has been built up from bottom to top, covering the steep hillside with strata of wood-grained concrete and stone in a high-concept version of an archaeological dig.

J. Paul Getty modeled the Malibu Villa after the Villa dei Papiri in Herculenium near Pompeii. Only part of the villa was excavated, but from floor plans, architects were able to recreate the dimensions of the ancient Roman villa. Details of floor and wall designs come from several other Greek and Roman edifices.

The Museum interior consists of 29 galleries on two levels, a reading room and two interactive exhibits. Downstairs galleries open off an Atrium with an open skylight over a central pool. Beyond the Atrium, sculptured figures flank a long fountain amid Mediterranean plants in the Inner Peristyle, a courtyard surrounded by a columned porch. The doorway straight ahead under the yellow marble stairs leads to the East Garden.

The Getty Center and Getty Villa are as much about the architecture as the art collection. Like much art, they are better appreciated with an understanding of their creators’ intentions. Knowing the architects’ concept of re-imagining the site as an archaeological dig, puts otherwise incongruous details in context. Oddly placed walls in the Entry Pavilion overlooking the Villa to one side and a concrete courtyard below re-create the sense of looking down into the dig pit – if you know that’s what it’s supposed to represent.

Stairs from the garage through the Entry Pavilion and the Path to Museum bring you to the top of the Outdoor Theater, from where you can look down to the Villa Entrance. This, again, gives the impression of looking down into the site. But if you don’t feel like ascending all those stairs just to climb back down through the theater, the archway to the right as you come up the stairs will take you through the Herb Garden to the Museum entrance. There are also elevators.

Beyond the Villa and Outdoor Theater, between the Auditorium and the Museum Store, a flat, square pool of Chinese black marble collects water seeping from between layers of travertine, bronze, red porphyry stone and board-formed concrete to add to the archaeological concept. The different textures represent the strata of volcanic deposits that covered the Villa dei Papiri when Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79.

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