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The Getty Center: What If You Had All the Money in the World?

By February 23, 2018 One Comment

You don’t need all the money in the world to be a collector according to J. Paul Getty.  In the space of a couple weeks, I have immersed myself in all things Getty.

A visit to the Getty Center in Los Angeles, reading his book The Joys of Collecting and viewing the recent movie All the Money in The World about the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson, J. Paul Getty III.

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I must say the Getty Center had been on my must-see list for a decade. Now that I live within driving distance, I finally indulged myself.  The architecture of the modern museum buildings is as compelling as the extensive art collections inside.  Set on a hilltop in the Brentwood neighborhood, a tram transports you up the hill through shady pine trees to the Center.

The Spectacular Getty Gardens

Beautiful statues are on display when you enter the courtyard.  The gardens surrounding the center are serene, mixing traditional and formal garden styles to give it a more modern complementary contrast. A rock waterfall and stream cut through a path that leads down to a bougainvillea arbor with seating that overlooks a formal floating azalea garden.

There is also a sculpture garden of modern art overlooking the cityscape of Los Angeles.  A second story cactus garden can be seen from the outdoor balcony on the South Promontory while a reflecting pool and fountain straddle the middle courtyard, offering a pleasant spot to sit and recharge.

Getty museum, All the money in the world, Vangogh, Times up, Oscars, J. Paul Getty, Getty Center in Los Angeles, Skirball fire in L.A., The Joys of CollectingWe meander down the garden paths admiring the plantings and flowers while taking in the views of the Santa Monica mountains, Pacific Ocean and Los Angeles below.  Sadly, we can see the fire damage from the month before looking towards Bel Air.

The Getty Center was built to be fire proof to protect its priceless collection and it certainly did during the devastating Skirball fire last November.  We admire the views as we made our way through the museum entrance.

Getty’s gift to art lovers around the world is free admission. When the Getty Villa opened in 1954 as the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty oversaw the details during its construction even though he never visited the museum!

His will requested “the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge” which formed the J. Paul Getty Trust, one of the world’s largest supporters of the arts.

Inside the Getty Pavilions

Getty museum, All the money in the world, Vangogh, Times up, Oscars, J. Paul Getty, Getty Center in Los Angeles, Skirball fire in L.A., The Joys of CollectingThe Getty Center opened in 1997.  It’s vast painting collections are housed in four different pavilions and showcase 16th century to 19th century paintings.

Era-appropriate decorative arts and sculptures are dispersed throughout, including some favorite highlights like St. Bartholomew by Rembrandt, the Portrait of James Christie by Thomas Gainsborough, Rue Mosnier With Flags by Manet, and Van Gogh’s Irises.

The photography collection is also vast and  regularly rotated.  The decorative arts collection is a large and varied group of furnishings with exceptional workmanship.  The Roman and Greek antiquities are extensive and lead out to outdoor balconies, walkways and viewpoints that provide welcome transitions between the various galleries.

And the Cafés!

There are two cafés – one offering a large range of ethnic foods in a casual setting and the other smaller scale offering sandwich and salad options. An elegant, full service restaurant with views of the Santa Monica mountains for those wanting a leisurely, more formal dining experience is also an option.  The center is large so you know you’ll be hungry or need to re-caffeinate at some point!

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Getty’s collecting preferences when he was alive focused on Greek and Roman statuary and antiquities, tapestries, European decorative arts and Renaissance art.  He collected largely for the thrill of the hunt and often never saw the actual art once purchased!  He regularly shipped the art directly to his ranch house in Malibu, planning to open a J. Paul Getty Museum.

For a person who looked for tax loopholes and savings on all kinds of small everyday items, it’s amazing that Getty shared his vision and renowned collection with the general public. He began collecting before WWII and during the war.

After the war, he focused on redirecting his financial empire on post war operations and set out collecting again in the early 1950’s. But the vast collection of art he did gather through 1964 was more than enough to create a serious museum.

All the Money in the World

After my visit to the Getty Center, I watched the movie All The Money In The World. It chronicles the kidnapping of Getty’s grandson J. Paul Getty III.

A series of problems weeks before its release plagued the movie, beginning with the hurried replacement of actor Kevin Spacey (by Christopher Plummer) after sexual harassment allegations against Spacey became public.

A fortunate thing for Plummer, who received an Oscar nomination for his role as J. Paul Getty Sr.

Publicity issues continued to fester when a considerable pay discrepancy between the actors Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams was discovered. What struck me was that both Wahlberg and Williams had equally substantial roles, similar screen time and even used the same Hollywood agent. Obviously some unequal representation here.

But Wahlberg graciously donated a lump sum to repair the discrepancy and this “Times Up fund” is just the kind of action needed to resolve the fight for equal pay and equal representation.

About the Hollywood Movie

Getty museum, All the money in the world, Vangogh, Times up, Oscars, J. Paul Getty, Getty Center in Los Angeles, Skirball fire in L.A., The Joys of CollectingIn true Hollywood fashion, some of the facts surrounding the kidnapping events were changed to create a more exciting movie story-line.

Grandfather Getty’s miserly ways were not fictionalized and he did famously refuse to believe his grandson was kidnapped. Despite being  one of the wealthiest men on the planet, he refused to pay the $17 million ransom.

When asked why, Getty said he had fourteen grandchildren and if he yielded to the ransom demands of even one grandchild, then all of his grandchildren would be kidnapped for an easy payday.

When his grandson’s ear arrived in the mail, he acquiesced and the F.B.I. helped to get the sum reduced to $3.2 million.  Eventually, Getty Sr. agreed to pay $2.2 because it met the tax deductible limit at the time.

He agreed to loan his son the additional million to meet the ransom demand.  Getty refused to come to the phone when his grandson called to thank him!

Getty’s Legacy Included a Collection of Women

It is obvious after reading Getty’s book, The Joys of Collecting, that art was his true passion as well as his love for women.  He was married five times and had a child with each of his wives before each of the marriages ended in divorce.

Upon his death, at least a dozen women involved with Getty, including his ex-wife Louis Lynch Getty, whom he married in 1939, were given substantial settlements from his estate.  The remaining estate was largely given over to the J. Paul Getty Trust for executing his vision of sharing his collection with the world at large through his museums, education, research, grant-making and exhibitions.

I admire this wonderful gift he has bestowed to the masses, but I will always feel sorry for Getty. Despite his brilliant mind for business and passion for the arts, Getty never developed any happy family relationships. He was obsessed with money in his final years and died alone in 1976 a few years after the kidnapping concluded.  His 72-room mansion in Surrey, England could not buy him true happiness.

I have never been given to envy – save for the envy I feel toward those people who have the ability to make a marriage work and endure happily. J. Paul Getty

Denise Benson

Author Denise Benson

Denise Benson is a photographer, creative writer and traveler. Discovering new ideas, people, places and cultures is a lifelong passion, which Denise enjoys sharing with her readers using her unique perspective as a photographic storyteller. An avid sailor, she and her husband Brian have sailed 10,000 blue water miles exploring the South Pacific. Along with sailing, she enjoys travel, food & wine, books and nature related activities, including napping on the fore-deck of her boat, Moonstone.

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