When the Getty Villa first opened to visitors in 1974, founder J. Paul Getty explained to the Los Angeles Times why he had chosen to base the Museum’s design on the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman villa that had been buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.:
It is fortunate that the United States has one ancient, private building which is authentic in spirit …. One could say ‘go to Pompeii and Herculaneum and see Roman villas the way they are now—then go to Malibu and see the way they were in ancient times.’
What Getty hoped to give visitors was an intimate and insightful experience with the ancient world. That continues to be our goal today, and it is why we have decided to spend 2017 changing how the Getty Villa presents our antiquities collection.
The current approach to the display of our collection is based on theme, and groups artworks within galleries according to subjects such as mythological heroes, or women in antiquity. The new presentation will take a stronger narrative approach, tracing the chronology of the development of art in the Etruscan, Greek, and Roman cultures from the Bronze Age through the Late Roman Empire (roughly, 3,000 B.C. to A.D. 600).
From January 2017 to spring 2018, visitors to the Getty Villa will experience a museum in transition.
What does this mean? Well, some things are staying the same:
- The Villa is still open every day of the week except Tuesday,
- admission is still free,
- regular tours and programs will continue, and
- you still need to book an advance ticket. (See our main website for details.)
Some things will be different:
- various galleries will be temporarily closed so work can proceed,
- beginning in the spring, the Outer Peristyle pool will be off view as it undergoes repairs, and
- special programming will be provided to enhance your visit during the spring and summer months.
When the Villa fully reopens in the spring of 2018, you’ll see a number of improvements:
- more gallery space,
- a classical world in context gallery featuring long-term loans of important objects from non-European cultures that will help give better context to the Getty’s collection of mostly European antiquities,
- objects that have not been on recent view,
- galleries dedicated to the legacy of J. Paul Getty and the history of the Villa dei Papyri,
- a new, larger Family Forum space, and
- improved Wi-Fi in the galleries.
The new display will also give visitors a different perspective on the art of antiquity.
Just like artists today, the artists of the ancient world were responding to what had come before, as well as to interactions with other cultures and societies. Ideally, a historical display will facilitate the ability to follow this conversation and understand why a portrait at one time is rendered in a certain style—while at a later time, shows a vastly different style. Those differences shed light on how culture, history, and technology changed over time.
The chronological display will also help show why art historians and curators deem some works “masterpieces.” For example, when you look at the Getty Bronze next to other Hellenistic sculptures, it is visibly evident what an outstanding object it is.
Last but not least, the new displays will support better cross-cultural comparisons of artwork from the ancient world. J. Paul Getty’s personal interests shaped our collections. In terms of antiquities, he favored collecting Greek and Roman art. But the story of art history is global and can be enriched by looking at relationships within and across cultures. In the case of classical art, the relationships among cultures outside Greece and Rome, such as those of Anatolia, Egypt, and Persia, are an important part of the story of the ancient world.
What would it have been like to live in Pompeii in the 1st century A.D.? The newly designed galleries at the Getty Villa will, as J. Paul Getty himself hoped, transport the minds of visitors to a specific time and place in the past, and start conversations in the present.
Questions? Comments? Please share them below, and I’ll get you an answer as quickly as possible. And for more details, including maps that show gallery closures as they are planned, see our visitor guide.