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How the J. Paul Getty Museum Works

Getty Museum Collection

Founder J. Paul Getty was eager to share his appreciation of great art, and the Getty Museum presents its collection in a viewer-friendly manner at both the Getty Center and Villa locations. The Getty Center displays Western art among its modern architectural and garden setting, whereas the Villa focuses on ancient Greek and Roman art in a Roman-inspired setting. Many of the works in both locations are grouped by theme instead of by time period, so visitors can learn about trends and influences.

The Getty Center

From the central courtyard, you can wander into any of the four pavilions that house the museum's permanent collection, or visit the Special Exhibition pavilion, which features rotating exhibits. There, you might take in "Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture," for example, or an exhibit that shows how drawings in the Getty's collection were made and how they have been studied and cared for.

The North pavilion houses the museum's collection of illuminated manuscripts. In the age of the e-book, this collection highlights the effort that went into producing a book during the Middle Ages.

The ground floor of the South Pavilion contains a collection of French decorative art from the 17th and 18th centuries. In a separate exhibit upstairs, you can look at Odilon Redon's pastel portrait "Baronne de Domecy," the background of which depicts a flood of dreamy flowers.

In the West Pavilion you can view a portion of the museum's photography collection, which includes more than 60,000 images spanning the history of photography. Pictures range from Thomas Fenton's portrait of a Crimean War commander of 1855 to Andy Warhol's 1977 Polaroid of Liza Minnelli. It also holds 19th century paintings and Italian art from the 18th and 19th century.

Baroque artists are the focus of the East Pavilion. Among the highlights is Peter Paul Rubens' 1615 oil painting, "The Entombment," a vivid depiction of Christ after the crucifixion.

The Getty Villa

The 23 galleries at the Villa display only about 1,200 of the museum's vast collection of 44,000 objects from antiquity [source: Goodale]. The galleries are organized by theme, focusing on topics such as "Gods and Goddesses," "Dionysos and the Theater" and "Stories of the Trojan War". The approach helps visitors to understand the artworks in the context of their use in classical societies. Although the permanent collection includes mainly Greek, Roman and Etruscan objects, the special exhibits touch on other areas, such as the art of the Aztecs.

One of the highlights of the collection is "Victorious Youth," a Greek statue from 300-100 B.C. and one of the few life-size Greek bronzes still in existence. Its realistic form gives the viewer a unique connection to the people of another era.

The collection ranges back even further, including Etruscan candlesticks from 500 B.C. and a Cycladic storage jar from 3000 B.C. To put it all in context, you can visit the TimeScape Room. Here, interactive exhibits focus on time, place and artistic style in the ancient Mediterranean.

Read on to find out where you can get more detailed information and plan your visit to the Getty Museum.