Three artists known for their individuality of voice and honesty of expression received the Getty Medal in a celebratory dinner tonight at the Getty Center.

“Art is the purest expression of truth,” said L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti to open the event attended by artists, philanthropists, scholars, and cultural leaders. The 2019 medalists Mary Beard, Ed Ruscha, and Lorna Simpson embody “excellence in the arts and a fierce dedication to knowing—and speaking—the truth.”

Lorna Simpson

Artist Lorna Simpson has a brave, bold spirit, said Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. “She is constantly innovating,” added Golden:

With a brave heart and courageous eye, she has not only challenged notions of representation of gender, identity, history, and culture, but has created a practice dedicated to exploring truth and celebrating beauty. She continually moves and changes and thinks differently about her work, and it is that courageousness that inspires me.

Mary Beard

Classicist Mary Beard “makes ancient Rome cool,” said former British Museum director Neil MacGregor of his friend. “A scholar of rigor and passion, she uses scholarly skepticism to fight fake histories, and she’s always reminding us of what we don’t know.”

Said Beard from the stage:

I’m receiving this on behalf of all those who are working so hard to keep our conversation with the ancient classical world going, alive, interesting—and occasionally a little bit uncomfortable.

We study the ancient classical world because we want to challenge ourselves to think harder about ourselves, about democracy, about truth. It’s hugely important to recognize how much we would have lost if we would have completely lost the classical tradition and the classics. Long may the classics survive.

Ed Ruscha

“Braininess without pretension; sizzling heat with that legendary cool.” So Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, encapsulated artist Ed Ruscha.

Just as Charles Dickens captured London and Flannery O’Connor the South, Ruscha’s art has defined L.A., said Philbin. “He is famously laconic; his natural state is one of observation, curiosity, and empathy, the essence of a Zen mind.”

He has humility, intelligence, character—“and truth, the theme of the evening,” commented Philbin.

“My last brush with anything like this was 12 years ago, when I was voted employee of the month at my own art studio,” joked Ruscha from the stage to end the evening. “I couldn’t handle it then and I’m not sure I can now.”


Learn more about the Getty Medal and see videos about each honoree at