The Glorious Getty: Art + Architecture

Sparano + Mooney Architecture loves art and culture – and as contemporary architects in Los Angeles, we also adore examples of institutions in this great city that combine these passions and pursuits. Which is why we are crazy about the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center and the treasure trove it offers throughout its sprawling California campus. Housing an expansive collection of European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, photography, textiles and decorative arts created from antiquity to the present, the museum serves diverse local and international audiences and continually offers groundbreaking exhibitions and programming to the public. The Getty Center’s overriding mission is to “inspire curiosity about, and enjoyment and understanding of, the visual arts by collecting, conserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of outstanding quality and historical importance”. Now that’s a mission we can support!


David Hockney, “Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #2”, 1986. Collage of chromogenic prints. Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, © David Hockney

The history of the Getty Center is storied and speaks to the legacy and prolific collecting tendencies of its founder, oil tycoon, industrialist and businessman J. Paul Getty (b.1892 – d.1976), who believed that art could be a “civilizing” influence on society. Throughout his life, Getty worked to make art available to the public and to promote the educational benefits of cultural artifacts. In 1948, he donated a significant portion of his collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; in 1953 he established the J. Paul Getty Trust, and the following year he opened the J. Paul Getty Museum in his Malibu ranch house (the site now serves a mission focused on antiquities). After his passing, the Trustees looked to build upon Getty’s unwavering dedication to the visual arts, expand the museum and its collections, and offer a broader range of programming, educational pursuits and scholarly research opportunities to the art world and members of the public alike. With this mission to hand, the Getty Villa was conceived and constructed and the Getty Conservation Institute, Getty Research Institute and Getty Foundation were created and constitute “the Getty”. In 1983, the Trust purchased the 110-acre hilltop site in the Santa Monica Mountains that would come to house the current site of the Getty Center, designed by architect Richard Meier. Incorporating lush gardens and celebrating the site’s rugged topography, the Center opened to great art – and architecture – acclaim in 1997. Today, the Getty is the world’s largest cultural and philanthropic visual arts institution.  


The J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles, California. Photography: The LA Times Magazine, December 7, 1997. Courtesy Lawrence Weschler

The Getty Center, while focused primarily on promoting and exhibiting the visual arts, is nevertheless an all-encompassing cultural institution, offering performances, film screenings, talks and lectures, tours and family events for all to experience its architecture and cultural offerings. Research and conservation play a crucial role in the Center’s operations, and educational programs for audiences of all ages engage audiences through the rich resources at the Center and Villa. For example, the education department offers a session titled “Drawing from Antiquity”, in which informal drawing lessons are taught on the grounds and students can sketch from works of art, architecture, sculpture and the gardens of the Villa. The course sounds to us like the perfect way to spend an afternoon honing our foundational skills!

The exhibition program is wide-ranging and never fails to innovate. Recent exhibitions have included “Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice”, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Hockney” and “The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830-1930”. We are also excited about a forthcoming exhibition (opening June 26-October 21, 2018) titled “Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography 1911-2011”, featuring works by industry stalwarts such as Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton while also recognizing the talent of artists less well-documented, including Neal Barr, Hiro and Ray Kellman.


Left: Neal Barr, “Dianne Newman”, 1966. Gelatin silver print. © Neal Barr. Right: Hiro,Black Evening Dress, New York”, negative 1963; print 1994. Dye imbibition print. © Hiro. Courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum. 

Whenever we have a spare minute in Los Angeles – and especially when we are seeking architectural and creative inspiration – we head to the Getty Center. We are in awe of its collections and the dedication of its professional staff in continuing the passion for art, architecture and culture that J. Paul Getty originally established. It would be a dream to collaborate with this venerable institution. We hope to see you wandering among the collections and bougainvillea soon! 


1. "About the J. Paul Getty Museum"
2. "History of the Getty"
3. "Behind the Scenes at the Getty: the History of Fashion Photography Revisited" by Gisely Ruiz, the iris: Behind the Scenes at the Getty, 16 October 2017