Getty Villa: Elegance Hides Darker Story

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The Inner Peristyle at the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., July 8, 2005. i

The Inner Peristyle at the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., July 8, 2005. Richard Ross, Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust hide caption

itoggle caption Richard Ross, Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust
The Inner Peristyle at the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., July 8, 2005.

The Inner Peristyle at the Getty Villa in Malibu, Calif., July 8, 2005.

Richard Ross, Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust

In the midst of the controversy over Italian antiquities, the Getty is reopening its famous Villa this month after a multimillion-dollar renovation. The Villa houses some of the artifacts Italy wants back. Commentator Tyler Green says it's unlikely visitors will care if some of its art is contested.

: Commentator Tyler Green has visited the Villa, and he says its elegance hides the darker story.

TYLER GREEN: 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.

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.

V: As I walked through the Villa, I wondered, which of the vases, statues or jugs shouldn't be here?

: 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.

: Tyler Green writes the blog Modern Art Notes.

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