Day 2: Saturday, December 31 – The Getty

Happy New Year everyone! It’s New Year’s Day, about 6am as I start this. Dan had a 9pm flight to Raleigh last night; I was in bed shortly after that. We long ago gave up trying to stay up until midnight. When I woke up he’d texted me that he landed. All is good with the world.

Yesterday we did the day we’d originally planned with the kids: The Getty Center and The Getty Villa. Turned out we needed reservations for the Villa and it was too late to get them by the time we learned that. But we could get them for Saturday, so we planned for that and Dan came up with the alternate “family history” plan for Friday, which actually worked great and probably better. I had never done any of those things either so it was new experiences for all.

I worked on the blog in the morning in the room and in the hotel restaurant, got it posted just before we headed out. Hope to do the same thing today 🙂

So what I’m calling “The Getty” is really 2 museums, funded by the same foundation, and very closely related. J Paul Getty (the oil tycoon if you don’t know the name) owned a mansion in Malibu. He had a passion for art collecting, especially antiquities. Initially he just had his collection in his home, which in 1954 he opened up to the public a few days a week because he wanted to share it. But his collection was too big to be enjoyed from just a few rooms in his house. In 1968, on the same property he has a villa constructed as a recreation of the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house discovered in the late 1800’s which had been destroyed by the Pompeii earthquake in 79. (Just plain old 79…like 0079.) This opened in 1974 as the J Paul Getty Museum.

Getty died in 1976. His trust kept collecting things. It’s also very involved in conservation and, partnering with UCLA, offers the only masters program on the subject in the country, with all of the labs and equipment to go with it. The collection outgrew the existing museum, and a new complex with built further inland in the mountains. This became The Getty Center, and opened in 1997. At the same time, the earlier museum closed for renovation and reopened in 2006 as The Getty Villa. Today is houses the antiquities collection, and everything else, along with the research institute, is in the Getty Center complex. We did both today. And were fascinated by the fact that both are free. It’s gotta be a heckuva endowment. We paid $15 for parking at the Center, and got a coupon which waived the parking fee at the Villa when you do both on the same day. Pretty good deal.

The Getty Center sits in the hills just north of Sunset Blvd on the west side of the 405. (Uh oh – you know I’m in SoCal when “the” is in front of the freeway name…) It’s nestled in the hills and, while you can walk up to it from the parking structure, we chose the tram instead. My legs have been killing me from the running I’ve been doing in the hotel gym in the morning before breakfast.

 “The 405” from the tram.
 I’ve never seen a museum complex quite like this. It’s worth the visit just for the grounds and the architecture.

 Another cloudy, rainy day in LA.
We signed up for one of the many free tours. Meet Patty. A little verbose for our taste, but we appreciated her approach. She did a nice job of explaining how to look for symbols in the painting reflecting what the patron wanted. It was a nice refresher on this perspective which I’ll admit I tend to forget: most art from the Middle Ages through Renaissance was for the rich, and usually commissioned by someone with money who had something to say, and since people couldn’t read generally, there are lots of clues in the paintings, you just have to know how to read them to tell the story. The patron got to pick the subjects, the colors, the message, etc. So they were always something pretty personal to the patron, and knowing who it was and why they may have commissioned it is critical to understanding the message. And at the end of this great education piece instructing us how to determine the message she ends with: “it’s either a celebration of a birth, or an engagement of individuals from two families who didn’t quite get along, we’re not really sure which!” It was still instructive 🙂  
 A glance back to the hills in a glass hallway connection exhibit halls.
 Dan always likes these very realistic paintings of flowers.

Look carefully at the photos of the next 3 paintings. If you had to guess, are they all similar size?

Could one of them be bigger than the others? 

Could one of them be like 10 or more times larger than another? 

Which one is the big one?
Dan was fascinated by the detail in all 3 of them. But mostly fascinated by the size. The first one is like 3ft x 3ft, at least. The bottom two are like 4x5inches.

 Lots of interesting architectural details in this complex. That’s actually a shallow pool of water behind me that I’m trying not to fall into, with water coming out of the rocks and down the back wall.
 More water features.

They had a special exhibit on alchemy which we made our way to next, killing a bit of time before the lunch reservations we made for 12:15. The guy below was the first exhibit, representing the Roman god Mercury.

Mercury (Hermes to the Greeks) was worshipped as the “transmitter of scientific and medical knowledge and thought to hold the secrets to the preparation of therapeutic drugs.” Mercury’s reputation as a trickster may have inspired the Romans to equate him with the quirky and mysterious metallic element known as quicksilver. What I loved most about the explanation was the Greeks called him “psychopomp – escort of the soul through the underworld.” I think I need to adopt that.



There were several eating options; we went for the fine dining one. And the food was pretty good. Our results with museum food over the years is pretty much 50/50 – sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. This was a winner.

 Dan got the cioppino and was impressed with how fresh the variety of seafood was, and how perfectly cooked each was, including sea bass, mussels, clams and scallops. They were cooked separately, put into the bowl, and the broth poured over it at the table.
I got the chicken pot pie. The sauce was surprisingly cheesy but worked. Both dishes were great on what was turning into an uncharacteristically cold and wet day in Los Angeles.

 Back to the alchemy exhibit after lunch. They had lots of old books with Dan always enjoys.

The photos above and below go together. I’m keeping this whole explanation in tact because it’s too hard to explain otherwise. It was surprising on a couple of levels: one, that a display about color would end up talking about heroin, and two, that Dan’s employer gets mentioned in the process! This is the 2nd time we’ve seen Bayer referenced in a museum, the first time this past August in the German History museum in Berlin.

This is a plasma globe. Plasma is the 4th state of matter (after solid, gas, liquid) discovered in 1879, and which scientists now believe is the most abundant type of matter in the universe.

 The electric field in the globe responds to the plasma in your hand.

 Both Getty museums had lots of umbrellas available at each exit. Good thing!
 Not in season and closed due to the weather, this garden was designed by the architect to be a work of art all by itself.
Missed the explanation for this and couldn’t find it online. We thought it was fun though!
Here’s a nice photo of the complex I found online;
We left about 2:30 and took Sunset Blvd all the way to the Pacific Coast Highway. Take a right and the Getty Villa is on your right not even a mile up. It was about a 20 minute drive through Brentwood and the Pacific Palisades so lots of beautiful homes with fun views from the hills. We passed Rockingham Ave and I was like “hey, isn’t that where OJ lived?” Yep. The things I remember….

The Getty Villa is just as impressive architecturally, just from an entirely different perspective. The Center was all modern, the Villa is based on 2000+ year old styles. Like all good architecture, both take excellent advantage of the nature around them. The photo above is the entrance you approach from the garage. You take an elevator up to the landing at the top of the photo above, which is where I’m standing in the photo below looking back at where we just entered.  Notice the Pacific Ocean in the background below. (And I just noticed in this photo apparently we could have taken the stairs…oh well…my legs are still hurting a little bit!…)

 Dan hadn’t been here since the late 80’s and said all of this is new and very different from his last visit. The amphitheater wasn’t there then.

 Ever since the Louvre in Paris in 2014, we have a running joke about “we’re in antiquities, get ready for lots of erect penises and other displays of bodily functions.” This museum did not disappoint from that perspective. As you’ll see, it might top everything else we’ve seen so far on that front. The above was in the Very First Display case we came across. Something about an ancient parody where a child with a ram’s head emerges from a basket with an erect penis. So there you have it.


 The two above and below were in the same hall as the first.

 The villa was beautiful though, with a lovely courtyard.

This is the Greek god Herakles, or Hercules to the Romans. This was Getty’s first and favorite item in his collection, and the one that inspired the Villa. He wanted everything around it to support the times it came from.

 A nice little side garden, with a close-up of the mosaic fountain below.

 The back gardens, with a tiny sliver of the Pacific past the columns at the end of the pool.


This was a small, ancient copy of a 40 foot enthroned Zeus. For some reason in this museum, I really “got” that the ancient really believed all those gods existed, were real people up on Mt Olympus, and why there was so much art about them.


We’ve seen Roman mosaics before in Trier, Dresden and Berlin, but this exhibit was pretty extensive and we enjoyed it. The detail and the scope is always spectacular. That’s a lion eating a donkey in case you thought it was something else 🙂



 “Combat between Dares and Entellus” from Virgil’s Aeneid.


 Dan always likes the mummies. This was interesting in that they’d done a CT scan on the sarcophagus and confirmed that all of the organs had been removed prior to burial. They could also tell that it was a relatively healthy 20 year old man or so, who probably died from a bonk on the head.


 Here we go. There was this whole series called “The Symposium” which is essentially the ancients version of “boys night out” or “what happens in Athens stays in Athens” I guess. Although this looks more like a bowl or even just a plate which high edges, it’s called “Wine Cup with a Sexual Encounter”, and the woman is presumed to be a “professional entertainer.”


 “Wine Cup with a Drunk Man Vomiting.” We can’t make this stuff up.

“Wine Cup with a Drunk Man Singing”, or, uh, urinating might be a better description. “His young servant is ready to minister to his needs [uh huh, I bet] holding the man’s belongings as well as the jug into which he urinates.” At least the narrative confirmed we weren’t imagining that.


 “The inscription on the vessel refers to the Athenian social practice of men courting young boys.”


 “Victorious Youth”, an athlete after successfully winning a competition, placing an olive wreath on his head.


Wine Cup with a Man and a Youth Kissing. “The relationship an adult male citizen and a freeborn youth was a fundamental part of elite Greek society.”



And on that note, it was time to go 🙂

We left right when it closed at 5pm, stopped in Santa Monica for gas, and went to a sushi joint Dan found in Old Torrance which was close to the hotel.

 The meal started with a small salad, then this amazing egg custard soup with mushrooms and bits of seafood. Asian comfort food on what was still a cold, wet day.

Mine above, Dan’s below: the only difference is I got spicy tuna roll, Dan had a nice variety of sashimi.

And that was our day. We went back to the hotel briefly so Dan could finish backing and I took him to LAX for his sort-of-redeye flight home. He likes to take a late flight back and sleep on the plane, otherwise it feels like he’s losing a full day in that direction.

We had a great visit and he will be back to Sac in late January before he has to go back to Europe again in February. Last week we did some good planning on our next big trip which will be 2 weeks starting the end of June: 5 nights in Istanbul, 6 nights in the southern English countryside. Planes and some lodging are booked, now we start working on the details. Should be a fun trip. (And no, we’re not too worried about Istanbul….)

It’s 8:30am now and I’m headed home. Have a great New Year everyone!

I'd love to hear from you!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.