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The Getty: A Beacon Of Culture, L.A.-Style

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You don’t have to love art to love The Getty Center in Los Angeles. Although it helps. Yes, it’s a museum with some seriously beautiful paintings and sculpture in its permanent collection, as well as noteworthy traveling shows. But that’s only half the attraction. The other half is a mix of Richard Meier’s Landmark Architecture, Robert Irwin and Laurie Olin’s Landscaped Gardens, the Great Views, and all those unique Photo Opportunities. (See photos in Snapping Around).

Perched high above the city, in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains, the Getty Center is a must-see for anyone visiting L.A., with or without children. Admission is free, but an advance time ticket is required, and there is a $15 on-site parking fee. I recommend going mid-week, when the place is remarkably empty, and if possible, towards twilight, when the lights in West L.A. begin to twinkle, and the sun begins to set over the mountains. (For museum hours and other information, go to www.getty.edu)

What has most changed, for the better, since the Getty first opened to the public in 1997, are the maturing gardens, trees, and overall landscaping, which have softened Meier’s austere – some would say cold – art palace. (Architecture and Garden tours are offered daily).  This becomes apparent the minute you step off the tram – a five-minute ride on an electric, cable-driven system – and encounter a cluster of magnificent pine trees, imported from Rome. Other landscaping highlights include a Museum Courtyard with a 120 foot linear fountain bordered by a row of Mexican cypress trees, a desert garden and Robert Irwin’s Central Garden. Ever changing, he has called it, “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.”

To be honest, I spent a great deal of time wandering around the Museum’s outside promenades and walkways, enjoying the panoramic views south, west, east and north before venturing into the galleries. But when I did, I particularly enjoyed a photography exhibit of food, “Tasteful Pictures,” on view through August 22, drawn from the Getty’s collection. It ranges from the mid-19th Century to today, and is a terrific little show, with artists ranging from Roger Fenton and Edward W. Quigley to Weegee, Eggleston and Martin Parr. His 24 photographs of “British Food” are sad, funny and provocative.

Don’t overlook some classic masterpieces in the Getty’s Upper Level, from Rembrandt and Van Gogh to Dutch Still Life Paintings.

The Getty is exceedingly family friendly. Saturdays reverberate with daylong family-and-kid festivals, featuring garden concerts for kids, storytelling music and art-making activities. Ongoing offerings include a Family Room, Family Art Stops, a Family Art Lab and audio guide specifically for families.

Design your own tour, give yourself plenty of time to stroll inside and out, and enjoy this beacon of culture, L.A.-style.

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