How do you feel about art? Is it something you seek out or are you dragged along? Are you a fan of contemporary / modern art or do the classical artists inspire you? Whether it’s street art or wacky sculptures or Renaissance masterpieces, I always look for art in the city I’m visiting. Yes, it’s another museum post. But bare with me, cuz it’s going to be worth it. Did you know we’ve got one of the best art museums in the country, right here in Los Angeles. And best of all, it’s free to visit!
The Getty Center is one of two museums created under the J. Paul Getty Trust. A businessman, philanthropist and art collector Getty believed that art is a civilizing influence in society even donating his own work to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) before opening his home in Pacific Palisades as the original J. Paul Getty Museum in 1954. (It’s now known as the Getty Villa and features a collection of Greco/Roman art and sculpture) The Getty Center in Brentwood was opened forty years later.
Ready for a mind blowing art experience? Read on to find tips for visiting the Getty Center in Brentwood, California.
The Getty Center is very easy to find, it’s on a hill above the 405 freeway in a neighborhood called Brentwood. It even has its own exit, Getty Center Drive. Parking in the parking structure is the only fee you’ll have to pay to experience all the arty goodness awaiting you in the Center. $15 per car before 3pm, $10 after. From the parking structure you’ll board a monorail that takes you up the hill to the entrance.
The Center is open 10am to 5:30pm Tuesday thru Sunday and on Saturdays stays open until 9pm. Visiting on a Saturday evening is the perfect time to go, it’s practically empty! Arrive before sunset to check out the garden. The view is amazing at any time of day or night, but especially beautiful at sunset.
How Long Does it Take?
The Getty Center holds an extensive amount of art; paintings, sculpture, photography, even interior decorative arts. This doesn’t include the gardens, outdoor sculpture and the rotating exhibits. Don’t worry, it’s overwhelming even to a veteran museum goer such as myself. Realistically, I’d allow about three hours in the museum. Whether that includes taking a lunch break, taking a tour or going at it on your own is up to you. There is no right or wrong way to see a museum. Plus with the rotating exhibits and other special events (like free concerts) put on at the Center you’ll want to return more than once.
Should I Take a Tour?
There are pros and cons to taking a tour at any museum. It’s a great way to see an easily digestible amount of the museum with commentary you wouldn’t normally get when doing it on your own. At the same time that can be exclusive if you are interested in seeing more. The Getty offers free, hour-long tours of the galleries focusing on different things – Impressionists, museum highlights, etc as well as architecture and garden tours.
Check with the information desk in the Entrance Hall for a list of tours (or here) offered the day you visit. The tours begin in the atrium behind the information desk. You’ll be given a headset so the docent doesn’t need to shout and you can listen without being right next to them. Alternatively, there are free audio headsets to follow your own tour. Throughout the museum there are certain pieces with a number and audio symbol on the placard indicating that there is audio commentary for that piece.
The Getty Center consists of four pavilions – North, East, South, and West – and the Exhibitions Pavilion that houses a rotating exhibit. Each pavilion houses art from different time periods starting with pre-1700 in the North Pavilion. The top level of each building has paintings, the bottom levels are other types of art like sculpture, photography, decorative arts, etc. The pavilions are connected by walkways and on the second level there’s a balcony between the South and East Pavilions that allows for a fantastic panorama of Los Angeles. The Exhibition Pavilion holds rotating exhibits on the top level. The exhibits change every 6-8 months or so which means there’s always a reason for a return visit.
When you visit the Getty don’t miss the Gardens! Below the Pavilions plaza you’ll find the Central Garden – 134,000 square foot space with over 500 types of plants. Designed by Robert Irwin, the garden was planned to have different plants in bloom throughout the year, so it’s different every time you visit. As you follow the path down the hill, you follow a waterfall in a stone gulch that empties into a pool with a maze of azalea bushes. Surrounding the maze are planter boxes with lots of edible plants. But the biggest eye catcher has to be the huge, tree like planters holding blooming bougainvillea. The custom made re bar contraptions are reminiscent of the Trees of Light in Singapore, just a more manageable size.
- Bring a lunch. While the Getty offers several dining opportunities from full service to more casual cafeteria style lunch or grab and go sandwiches, I’d recommend bringing a lunch to enjoy before you start exploring. The lawn surrounding the Garden is the perfect picnic spot.
- Umbrellas provided. As crazy as it sounds, the Getty provides umbrellas for its visitors to use. If it starts raining or the sun is too bright look for the conveniently placed buckets filled with umbrellas.
- Take advantage of two for one. Your parking fee is good at both the Getty Center and Getty Villa on the same day. If you’re feeling especially frugal or especially adventurous you can see both museums in the same day for the less than $20.