Artful L.A.

The Getty Center

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA

L.A. museums get a bum wrap. While researching things to do there, I noticed message board commenters often recommended that out-of-towners take in the city’s museums before immediately adding a caveat. Almost by way of apology, it seemed, they would note that the museums were worth a visit “but” weren’t as impressive as those in other cities like New York.

While it’s true that many museums fall short in a head-to-head with New York’s legendary Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles has plenty to offer art lovers. Here are three museums well worth a visit…on their own merit. And in addition to impressive artwork, both the Getty Villa and the Getty Center have an added bonus that Manhattan museums do not: Pacific Ocean views.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, LACMA

The Hindu God Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, c. 900, LACMA

The much-hyped outdoor sculpture Levitating Rock isn’t nearly as interesting as what’s inside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The largest art museum in the western U.S., the LACMA is home to 100,000 objects dating from ancient times to the present.

Japanese Pavilion of Art, LACMA

Pavilion for Japanese Art, LACMA

Particularly impressive is the collection of South and Southeast Asian Art, which ranges from a sixteenth-century painting that once hung in a Tibetan monastery to a bejeweled dagger wielded during India’s Mughal empire. Another highlight is the unusual and elegant Pavilion for Japanese Art. The multi-story gallery is explored via a spiral walkway that winds past colorful, hand-painted scrolls and other decorative objects.

The Getty Center

Minerva and The Fountain of Love, The Getty Center

A marble statue of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and war, stands near François Boucher’s painting The Fountain of Love

After reading Yxta Maya Murray’s novel The Conquest, the Getty Center in Los Angeles was added to my list of must-see sites. Murray describes the museum’s hilltop location overlooking the city, the tram visitors ride to reach the summit, and some of its treasures—like Edvard Munch’s Starry Night, a tranquil, vastly different work than his famous painting The Scream.

The Getty touts that it has free admission, and it’s true there is no cost if you arrive on foot or via public transportation and therefore avoid the $15 parking fee. Visiting the museum is a two-part experience, perusing the collection of pre-20th century European paintings, sculpture and decorative arts and also strolling the grounds. The sleek-looking architecture is intended to harmonize with the surroundings. The beige-hued Italian travertine used to construct the buildings, fountains and plazas reflects the warm afternoon sunlight, while the design of the 100-acre complex incorporates framed panoramic vistas like this one:

Getty Center Framed Landscape

Getty Villa

Even the swimming pool is adorned with sculpture at the Getty Villa in Malibu. Oil tycoon J. Paul Getty financed the construction of the abode—styled after an ancient Roman country house—to showcase his collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. (Parking: $15; advance timed tickets required.)

Getty Villa Pool

Colorful history lessons sometimes come with the art. Among the items on permanent view is a sarcophagus circa A.D. 290-300 that depicts a celebration of a grape harvest. It’s displayed in a room with other wine-related objects and an explanation of the role of wine in ancient times.

Offered to deities and lauded for its curative properties, wine, declared the Greek poet Panyassis, “is the gods’ best gift to mortals…. It drains all the troubles from men’s hearts.” Although too much merriment was frowned upon. It was considered barbaric to drink wine that wasn’t mixed with water. Diluting it lessened the possibility that the wine god Dionysus (and Bacchus, his Roman counterpart) would encourage rage and folly.

Sarcophagus with Vintage Scene Getty Villa

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14 Comments on “Artful L.A.”

  1. Danny Breslin March 22, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    Looking at the Getty Villa, I was thinking of having my backyard done out like that but I wouldn’t want people to think I was just copying.


    • Brian March 22, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

      Ha. No worries, though. The Getty Villa is itself patterned after a first century Roman country house.


  2. forda21 March 22, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    It looks like art in LA is worth a visit!


    • Brian March 22, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

      According to us it is. 😉


  3. Margaret March 22, 2013 at 11:15 am #

    The fact that so many LA museums have great outdoor areas is one of the things I love about them.


    • Brian March 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

      Yeah, the Getty Center is great for that.


  4. francisguenette March 22, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    I totally agree – we visited the Getty Villa on our last trip to California and fell in love with it – best docent led tours I’ve ever been on. They give you these headphones to wear so you can hear the docent even as you wander around seeing other things. Great experience.


    • Brian March 22, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

      We usually skip structured tours and the Getty Villa was no exception. Most of the time that ends up being the right call, but it sounds like we missed out at Getty. Bummer.


  5. alligatortoe March 22, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    LACMA is one of my absolute favorite museums, but I may be biased considering I live just South in Orange County! There are tons of great museums in LA, though, and not just art museums, including another favorite, the Museum of Tolerance, an emotional experience all about the Holocaust. Glad you enjoyed your visit to Southern California! 🙂


    • Brian March 22, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

      The Museum of Tolerance was on our to-do list but never got checked off. Something for next time.


  6. kathibook March 23, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Very cool!


  7. eric.rial March 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    I’ve been to the Getty Center, don’t remember the year, but it was shortly after it opened. My kids got a little antsy, but it is a cool place. We’re going up there in a couple months maybe we’ll put a museum on our list.



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