A museum trip. What better way to start the school year than with a field trip to a museum? Our timing was a little off, since we don’t technically start our school year until September, but homeschooling is never easily put in the box of calendars and “school hours” anyway, so off we went to the Getty in the middle of August.
Free, but parking costs $15.
You can pay the parking fee with cash or a debit or credit card.
Hours (Summer 2012)
Tuesday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Wednesday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Thursday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Friday 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Saturday 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Sunday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
The first thing we discovered was that there was some major construction happening on the freeway and side streets right at the entrance to the Getty, and try as we might to avoid it, we realized that there was no way around but through and got in line with the rest of the cars. This construction is continuing through 2013, so until then, it’s a good idea to check the Metro website for updates, as well as adding 10-15 minutes to your expected drive time.
Eventually we arrived at the Center, only 15 minutes after it opened, crowded into the standing-room-only tram and rode it to the top. It was a good chance to meet some new friends. We didn’t, but it was a good chance to do it. I actually spent most of the ride trying not to laugh at the women across from me, whose entire conversation went something like this:
Blond lady, holding up printout of website map: “Now here are the exhibits I definitely want to see, this one here, this one over here and this other one here.”
Dark-haired lady, glancing at map: “Oh, and the restaurant we’re eating at is right there, so that will be convenient.”
Blond lady: “Okay. There are a lot of restaurants…”
Dark-haired lady: “Yes, but we want to eat at that restaurant, right? That’s the one we’re eating at.
Blond lady: “Yes, that’s fine, we’ll eat there. But first we’ll go to this exhibit here and maybe the gardens.”
Dark-haired lady: “And after that we’ll eat at that restaurant.”
<pause to look out window at view>
Blond lady: “Now, do you want to go to the modern art exhibit?”
Dark-haird lady: “Oh, I don’t know. How far is it from the restaurant?”
<Tram comes to a stop and everyone begins to exit. I follow the ladies out the doors, and as they walk away from me, I hear one last exchange>
Blond lady: “Oh look, they even have a cafe on the Garden Terrace level!”
Dark-haired lady: “Yes, but we’re not eating at that one. We’re eating at the other restaurant.”
Entering the cool, air-conditioned, light-filled and airy lobby (did I mention it was air-conditioned? It was 93°F outside. We really, really liked the lobby), we made a bee-line for the free maps and huddled to formulate a Plan of Attack. We even found a scale model of the Center, and the 10 year old delighted in pointing out exactly where we were standing. I was impressed with him until he confessed that there was a sign on the model right there that said “You Are Here.”
The thing about the Getty is, it’s so big, you really can’t see it all in one visit. Especially not with a couple of pre-teens along. We knew that the tolerance of our two for Viewing Serious Art would peter out somewhere around an hour and a half, so we had until lunchtime to go through the galleries before they were going to be ready to do something else.
The Getty knows this about kids, however, and has a variety of activities that appeal to them and allow them to enjoy the museum in their own special kid way. The Family Events and Activities section of The Getty’s website gives details on all sorts of things, such as a family room of hands-on activities, family art labs and free Art Detective Cards, which give the kids something to focus on in the art galleries, which might otherwise be overwhelming to young visitors.
We picked up a couple of Art Detective cards, which had closeup shots of details of different works of art, along with a map showing in which rooms these works could be found. With a 10 year old and a 12 year old, you run the risk of this kind of thing being met with eye-rolls, but these cards were so well designed that the kids actually got into it and started to compete to see who could find the four mystery works of art first. All of them were in the “Before 1600” art galleries, and since this was their first trip to The Getty, it made sense to start with the oldest works anyway, so we headed over to the North Pavilion. The 17 year old was more interested in modern art, however, so she headed off in that direction by herself, art supplies in hand, happily looking forward to finding a quiet corner to sketch something that caught her eye.
We started on the top floor of the North Pavilion, where the paintings are displayed in order to make the most of indirect, natural light that filters down through skylights. The kids found the art interesting, especially as we pointed out features described on the placards next to the pieces. We were careful to tell them not to touch anything, because most of the pieces were not behind glass and were actually well within reach of curious fingers. There were plenty of museum workers on hand to keep an eye on things as well.
I found it mind-stretching to stand right in front of a piece of art that was 650 years old, with nothing but my respect for its preservation stopping me from reaching out and touching it. I don’t know why things are more real when we touch them, but that is just how the human mind seems to work. So even though I didn’t touch anything, the knowledge that I technically COULD touch it made me feel that much more connected to it.
Eventually we found ourselves in one of the rooms highlighted on the Art Detective Cards, and the kids set out in search of a painting containing the bird detailed on the card. The 12 year old found it first, but the 10 year old was having trouble. A museum worker sauntered over and gave him a pep talk, pointing him in the right direction, but before he could find the painting, the 12 year old called something out to him that distracted him and caused him to change his direction. The worker marched over to the 12 year old and chided, in a thick accent, “You have interrupted him! Now he will not find it!” He then gazed piercingly at her, with a twinkle in his eye, and asked, “Are you his older sister?” When she replied that she was he encouraged her to leave her little brother alone and let him discover things for himself. A few minutes later he sidled up to my husband and said, “I have talked to his sister. She will never interrupt him again.”
When we reached the ground floor, the kids were fascinated by the many different sculptures and pieces of furniture, especially a four-sided carved display cabinet with many drawers on each side. The display for this piece included three augmented reality (AR) touch-screen pads that enable the viewer to explore the cabinet without actually touching it. This same AR presentation is also available on The Getty’s website, much to the delight of my 10 year old, who just didn’t get enough of it on site.
By the time we reached the display of European Glass and Ceramics from 1400-1700, our feet were tired and our stomachs were telling us it was time to eat lunch, but not until the 12 year old, who was struck by the beauty of these pieces, took photos of every last one of them. We made sure she knew not to use the flash, and she snapped happily away at the pieces while I stood back and tried to understand how it was possible, considering that glass objects have an expected life-span of 3 months to 2 years in our household, that these pieces had survived upwards of 600 years without being dropped.
After a restful lunch, during which the 17 year old grabbed the camera and took photos of everything she had noticed earlier but hadn’t had a camera to photograph, we made our way to the gardens. The only other time I had been to the Getty was right after it opened, and the gardens had filled in and grown a lot since then. As it was the first time I went, the gardens were one of my favorite parts of the Center, as from there I could appreciate not just the imaginative landscaping but also get a good look at the architecture of the buildings. The 17 year old commented that she could easily spend a day at the Center just exploring, sketching and photographing the gardens and the cityscape views they afforded.
The gardens are so beautiful, in fact, the 12 year old asked for the camera and took her own set of shots:
As I mentioned earlier, however, it was 93°F, so our tour of the gardens was cut short as we surrendered to the heat. The sculpture garden was quite interesting and offered some unmatched views, but with not one tree, overhang or water feature in the vicinity, it maintained the approximate temperature of an oven prepped for baking cookies. Even the sun umbrella provided by the Center was little help in that area, and we vowed to come back again another time, preferably on a rainy day.
As we made our way out of the gardens, we passed the Getty’s trademark tree-shaped bougainvillea trellises. The middle-aged woman in front of me marveled to her husband about how beautiful they were, to which he paused, and then replied, “Yep, that’s some fine-lookin’ rebar there.” You could take that as sarcasm or an honest opinion, and I’m not entirely sure which one is funnier.
Insider Tip: We discovered this too late for it to be of use to us, but keep in mind that should you visit the Getty on a blisteringly hot day, the coolest outdoor seating is not down on the Garden Terrance level, as most people seemed to suppose. There was a breeze coming up the hillside, but it blew right over that level and hit the next level up. The placement of clear wind-break panels on the edge of the Museum Courtyard confirmed my theory, as the wind is apparently a problem on cooler days. In 93 degree heat, however, the breeze was wonderful, making the best outdoor seats in the Center that day the ones between the long, thin fountain in the courtyard and the Exhibitions Pavilion.
By the time we arrived at the end of the tram ride down the hill, we noticed that as hot as it had been at the top, it was a good 10 degrees hotter at the bottom. This didn’t stop the 17 year old from appreciating the architecture of the parking garage, and she paused for a picture in the stairwell.
Whatever your interest in visiting the Getty, be it art appreciation, people-watching, garden-browsing, architecture-studying or restaurant-sampling, the Center has plenty to offer. The beauty of the grounds makes it possible for even the most amateur of photographers to capture some stunning shots, the collection is beautifully displayed with plenty of information at hand to widen the knowledge base of the viewer, the people who work there are friendly, knowledgeable and ready to help and the whole experience is an incredible deal at $15 per car-load. This is definitely a place I will return to with my kids; the size of the collection, as well as its constantly changing nature, insures that no two visits to the Getty will be the same.