Getty Center Celebrates 10th Anniversary

This past weekend, the Getty Center launched a three-month celebration to mark its 10th anniversary. Most agree the Getty is a must-see destination, but KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez says that not everyone agrees about the Getty Center's effects on the Southland art scene.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The ribbon cutting ten years ago took place under a December sun that reflected off the Getty's sprawling marble plaza. A gospel choir, East L.A. roots band Los Lobos, and a youth orchestra performed.

[Sound of orchestra performing]

The Getty Trust's chairman at the time, Robert Erburu, welcomed the special guests.

Robert Erburu: Governor Wilson, Lt. Governor Davis, Mayor Riordan, members of the board of supervisors and the city council, members of the diplomatic corps.

Guzman-Lopez: The hundred-acre campus took a decade and a half and $1 billion to build. Then-governor Pete Wilson described the Getty Center as a cultural gem beyond price.

Pete Wilson: There is no way we can estimate the value of this remarkable gift to Los Angeles, but it is a gift to far more than simply those of us who are lucky enough to be in this city, it will be a gift to future generations.

Guzman-Lopez: The Getty Trust built the center to display its growing art collection and to house its massive research library and art conservation division. The trust's ancient artifacts remained in the Malibu building now known as the Getty Villa.

Ten years ago, fans argued that the Getty Center was to Los Angeles what the Louvre is to Paris and the Metropolitan Museum is to New York. The Getty's post-modern architecture and postcard vistas garnered worldwide cultural credibility for L.A., says art and literary publisher Gary Kornblau. But, he adds, the Getty art holdings fell short of the institution's grand promise.

Gary Kornblau: The focus of the museum, of the actual building and of the site it was built on and of the marketing around it was more drawn towards basic tourists and a great place to go on a date, say, as opposed to a great place to see art.

Guzman-Lopez: The man who chose the site and who, more than any other, got the center built, former Getty Trust President Harold Williams, reflected recently on that criticism. He doesn't entirely disagree.

Harold Williams: ... the overwhelming majority of the populace of Los Angeles, are not traditional museum goers. And part of our objective was to create an institution that would be attractive and engaging to the people who make up Southern California.

Guzman-Lopez: Williams is also a board member of Southern California Public Radio. The Getty Center opened five years after the L.A. Riots. Some critics said the new building communicated that the region's wealthiest cultural institution wanted to exist on an exalted plane, separate from most of Los Angeles. Harold Williams sees that argument refuted in the faces of the one-and-a-half million people who visit every year.

Williams: It's all nationalities, all ages, which is a major part of what we hoped to accomplish.

Guzman-Lopez: Still, the location makes it less than accessible to many Southland residents. Sometimes, above the traffic-choked 405 Freeway at rush hour, the Getty resembles a castle with a moat around it. Public transportation doesn't serve the area well. On a Friday afternoon, a bus ride from downtown L.A. to the Getty would take at least two and a half hours.

Still, some culture-watchers contend that it's worth the trip. In the last few years the Getty's ramped up its programming. On the same day you can hear a docent lecture on decorative arts, listen to a Brazilian band, or allow your kids to touch and learn about selected works in the galleries.

Selma Holo: I think they've been fairly successful.

Guzman-Lopez: University of Southern California museum studies professor Selma Holo.

Holo: Whether it's the museum itself, whether it's the incredible family days on Sundays, or whether it's the research projects that they do, I think that they truly have made an effort to break down that physical isolation.

Guzman-Lopez: Holo says the Getty's also put two recent dark chapters in its rear view mirror. Former Trust President Barry Munitz resigned amid accusations of lavish spending. And the Getty's returned many ancient artifacts government officials in Italy and Greece had contended were stolen.

The Getty's architecture and scenic layout remain the biggest pull, even for die-hard art world types. One of them is heading the Getty Trust now – Jim Wood, former director of the Art Institute of Chicago. His favorite place at the Getty isn't a gallery. He says it's Robert Irwin's elaborate sculptural garden.

Jim Wood: It has grown, matured, filled out, taken on more complex range of color. I'd like to think that's a metaphor maybe for the whole institution. I mean, we're still very young, as this garden, but we've now had our roots in the soil of L.A. for a decade.

Guzman-Lopez: Wood says he wants the Getty's museum, conservation, and research divisions to collaborate more than they do now. He also wants to buy more art and to grant more money to other Southland museums. His institution's five and a half billion-dollar endowment ensures plenty of options for the Getty to maintain and expand its influence in and beyond L.A.