Though clearly born out of the same DNA codex (both museums embrace public and scholarly education, have the best views in Los Angeles), the Getty Villa, unlike its younger sibling, is the penultimate wedding of form and function.
Modeled after the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman country house buried by Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79, it contains the same collection that could have been found in the original estate. Even the gardens, owing to the Mediterranean climate found in Malibu, are planted with Southern Italian flora.
The Villa itself may embrace antiquity, but the curatorial staff is purely post-modern. A novel feature of the sylvan Villa is ArtQuest (vs. MapQuest) where visitors can log onto the internet, take a virtual tour of the museum, chart out which exhibits and pieces they want to see, then print out a map to follow during their sojourn. Not that this cartography is a perquisite.
Unlike most art-houses, the Villa organizes its Roman, Greek and Etruscan antiques thematically instead of chronologically – different halls showcase Animals in Antiquity, Griffins, Athletes & Competition or Dionysos & the Theater. Grouping by subject may seem obvious, but as most museums take the chronological route, examining the juxtapositions between these cultures becomes a breeze as does focusing your own attention on your own tastes.
If you’re interested in Mythology, you can leave the museum without the nagging anxiety that you missed a crucial piece by making sure to visit halls CVIII, CIX and CVII: the Temple of Herakles, Mythological Heroes and Monsters & Minor Deities. With its various gardens, fountains, pools and cafes, it’s also the ideal museum to take someone who dislikes art.
The Getty Villa is, quite simply, a perfect museum.
(If criticism must be lobbed, it’s the same backhanded critique that has plagued the Getty Center: the architecture overshadows the art.)
While the only orgy taking place inside this Roman villa is an artistic one as of yet (cabernet vines will soon be added to the Kitchen Garden), your artistic libido will undoubtedly be sated.
EXHIBITS NOW ON DISPLAY
The Medieval Bookshelf:
From Romance to Astronomy
The Getty Villa Reimagined:
Starting at the Sketchbook
Antiquity & Photography:
Ancient Mediterranean Sites
Glassmaking in Antiquity
Museum hours: Thu-Mon 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays). Price: Free. Parking : $7. To reserve tickets or for more information, call (310) 440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu.