or, Getting Your Arms Around It

by Bill Lasarow

The Getty Center is a campus, not just a building. And it is actually a complex of programs, not just a museum. Most of the people tooling up the four-minute tram ride will be there to enjoy and admire the collection, the shows, the views, the gardens. Maybe you'll dine at the restaurant or cafeteria, perhaps attend a lecture or other program at the auditorium.

But the daily visits of staff and visiting scholars taking place in the hundreds of office spaces, some placed symbolically beneath the very feet of museum visitors, form the foundation of an unparalleled cultural mountain range that dwarfs the foothills they occupy. Here in a nutshell are the components that make up Getty Center--not offered just to impress you with ticking them all off, but to help you sort of get your arms around the behemoth. And, sure, to appreciate that Shaquille O'Neal is not the only large body in L.A.

The Campus:

J. Paul Getty Museum--The heart and soul. Oh, when you get off the tram, don't worry, go straight up the stairs, NOT to the left. I know, you can't see much of anything yet, but DON'T WORRY, you will.

The Auditorium--A 450-seat state-of-the-art lecture hall. Just try . . . pushing open one of the massive floor to ceiling doors with only one finger. It's the first building you'll see coming up the tram track.

The Getty Trust and Information Institute building--One of the staff office buildings. Neat to look at, but you'll get bored in there. The closest thing to an invisible location on campus. But don't overlook the Information Institute--it means Computers and the Web. More on that later. . . .

The Conservation Institute, Education Institute for the Arts, and Grant Program building--Many arts professionals will drool over what's inside, if they aren't already working there. The closest building to you when you get off the tram--see "Museum." How many people will instinctively head in there thinking "this must be the museum!" Maybe the signage will help.

Restaurant and Cafeteria--Upstairs, make your reservations and prepare to be waited on. Downstairs, grab a bite and a seat. Directly across the plaza heading west from the tram exit.

The Research Institute and History of Art and the Humanities building--Almost out of sight when you get off the tram, then you see it rising beyond the Restaurant. Walk up the stairs, bear west beyond the Museum entrance and past the Mystery Stairway (more on that to come) to the cylindrical building. The library and its own galleries will make this the place where scholars, staff and the public do the most rubbing of shoulders.

The Central Garden--Completely invisible almost until it's too late, that stairway you pass beyond the Museum on your way to the Research Institute not only leads to it, it's part of it. To most this will lead down to a neat park setting where they can relax surrounded by a maze of plants. But it's also an installation by Robert Irwin, a MacArthur grant artist who has devoted a brilliant career to addressing perceptual psychology and environmental context. The shape of a shrub, the color of a flower here is more than a decoration. Relax, it can still be pretty, too.

The Programs.
The J. Paul Getty Trust administers an endowment currently valued at $4.2 billion, which supports a roster of the following programs:

J. Paul Getty Museum--The collections here will begin with Europe's early second millenium and trace through to the dawn of the 20th Century. The first four pavilions, starting from the southeast end of the lobby, house selections from the permanent collection. The west pavilion will be devoted to changing exhibitions, starting with "Beyond Beauty: Antiquities as Evidence", an excuse to bring a selection of work from the Villa over. But the collection of ancient art stays in Malibu. Additional shows will pop up in small galleries distributed among the other four pavilions. The real anchor among these galleries is the collection of European decorative arts, located in the third pavilion. If you have kids, don't miss the Family Center. Oh, the staff will cheerfully point out that you can start to the left and peruse the linear unfolding of European art history. Or stroll out the giant glass window/doors into the central courtyard and select a pavilion according to your impulse.

Getty Information Center--You know about the World Wide Web, though chances are you haven't seen it yet, or, if you have, just don't get it. Images, articles, dicussions, and services get digitzed and distributed out to academics and the general public here. The Web sites and CD-ROMs give the Getty phenomenal presence in communities and, especially, classrooms world-wide, transcending the Brentwood physical space. Believe me, it is important.

Getty Education Institute--The most powerful engine of arts education revival in America. Everything from cirricula to teaching theory in the areas of art history, art practice, and aesthetics is explored, developed, and distributed.

Getty Grant Program--Money goes out to help arts organizations internationally to locally enhance public understanding of art as well as preserve it, and to bring in visiting scholars to do concentrated research.

Getty Leadership Institute--Museum professionals already occupying positions of, well, leadership are exposed to new developments in their fields, as well a special workshops and mini-courses intended to keep their skills sharp.

Getty Conservation Institute--Conservation is typically used by a museum to care for its collection. Here they also engage in pure research and in formation distribution, as well as a selection of special projects to rescue important art ranging from Siquieros' America Tropical mural at Olvera Street to a royal tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Queens. The Getty rides to the rescue!

Getty Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities--The scholars of Art History gather here to further their own special interests, but also to interact with colleagues and participate in public discussion to stimulate debate, and to further our ability to judge art and ferret out its many meanings.