Getty Villa: Elegance Hides Darker Story
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
As we've just heard, one of Italy's prime targets is the Getty Museum in California. In the midst of this controversy, hundreds of antiquities will go on display this month at the newly remodeled Getty Villa. That's the Malibu estate built to house the collection of J. Paul Getty. ..TEXT: Commentator Tyler Green has visited the Villa, and he says its elegance hides the darker story.
Mr. TYLER GREEN (Blog Author and Art Critic): You have to look closely to see the lavishness of the new Getty Villa. African onyx caps outdoor walls; the climate-controlled display cases are built to withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake. The gardens show the promise of 100,000 new plants and trees, many of them species of the ancient Mediterranean.
But despite the opulence, or maybe because of it, the Getty Villa feels like an illusion, like something we better enjoy before it's taken away. ..TEXT: Because Italy and Greece want the Getty to return several dozen allegedly looted antiquities, it's hard not to see the Villa as the Getty's statement of ownership. We've built a special place for these objects, and that legitimizes our claims to them.
Reminders of these disputes are everywhere. The Getty's new book about the Villa is co-authored by Marion True, the former Getty curator on trial in Italy. The biggest, reddest permanent sign on the Getty property says, Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theatre. It's through the Fleischman's that many disputed items entered the museum's collection. And of course, inside the museum, there are the antiquities themselves. ..TEXT: As I walked through the Villa, I wondered, which of the vases, statues or jugs shouldn't be here?
I'm an art critic, so of course I think about these things. But how many visitors will really care if some of the art might have been stolen? ..TEXT: People who follow the Getty controversy will whisper to each other at the Villa Cafe. But subconsciously, at least, the Villa is designed to say this to the controversy, eh.
Here's why. J. Paul Getty's Villa is a copy of the Villa dei Papiri, a nearly 2,000-year old Roman country house. It was built over 30 years ago, just as UNESCO was starting to confront the cultural heritage issues that are still playing out today.
Now, the Villa is remodeled, and the architectural conceit is amped up.
Visitors walking through the front doors into the atrium, and past the ampluvian's (ph) blue waters will feel like they've time traveled back to the Roman Empire. It seems the Getty is saying that context matters.
I sense that in giving us an extravagant theme parkish wink at the past, the Getty hopes that our contemporary questions about origin will fade into the Venetian plaster.
The unfortunate subtext is this, if you feel like you're in Rome, maybe you won't remember that the antiquities aren't.
NORRIS: Tyler Green writes the blog Modern Art Notes.
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