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October 22, 2002

Getty vs. Acropolis


I took my daughter to the J. Paul Getty museum complex in Los Angeles last weekend (she had a class assignment) and, once again, I realized how disappointed I am with this billion-dollar complex. So I got on the Internet and checked out another hilltop 'cultural' complex to see how it stacked up (all pictures are thumbnails--check 'em out for yourself):

Acropolis complex reads well from a distance; Getty is visually incomprehensible from a distance. Running Score: Acropolis 1, Getty 0

Masses cleanly and clearly articulated; masses lumpish and illogically articulated. Running score: Acropolis 2, Getty 0

Entrance clearly marked, Propylaia creates dramatic yet dignified approach to Temple complex; entrance visually undistinguished, looks like approach to sports arena. Running score; Acropolis 3, Getty 0

Original--adaptation of temple design for a site with three different ground levels; copy--a staircase designed to display institutional bloat. Running score: Acropolis 4, Getty 0

Acropolis is a series of masonry buildings (real stones displayed); Getty is a series of steel frame buildings covered with stone veneer: Running score: Acropolis 5, Getty 0

And one other thing; the Parthenon was built faster (9 years) than the Getty (12 years from awarding commission to completion). Granted, it took the Athenians an additional six years to finish the sculptural decoration--but of course people are still fighting over that decorative sculpture 2500 years later. Thank goodness that won't be a problem at the Getty.



posted by Friedrich at October 22, 2002


Enjoy it while you can - it will slide under the waves in 60 years.

Posted by: Gene 6-Pack on October 22, 2002 11:32 PM

As a landmark to be seen from below, the Getty is terribly dull. (In part, that's due to complaints by neighbors who forced a low design on it because they didn't want a tall building blocking their views). Considering its unique site on the 405 Freeway overlooking all of West LA, and it's vast budget, that's a major disappointment. Still, when you are actually up inside its huge courtyard, it's quite pleasant. So, it's not an atrocity like the outside of the new LA Cathedral (the inside of the Cathedral is rather elegant but too understated, too Danish Protestant, for a church whose congregation is going to be overwhelmingly Latin American).

Posted by: Steve Sailer on October 23, 2002 2:35 AM

I've not been to the Getty, so I can speak only of the photographs I've seen, including those on your web page. Based on those, however, I'd score the comparison between it and the Acropolis slightly differently. On the second point, for instance, where you see lumpishness and illogic, I see interesting variation, which is not nearly so obviously inferior as you suggest to the Parthenon's "Masses [that are] cleanly and clearly articulated".

But the main point I wish to make is that the comparison, though not irrelevant, is absurdly unfair. The Acropolis is nearly universally recognised as one of the great works, if not the greatest work, of collective architecture in the history of Europe, if not the world. You seem to be trying to pass off the comparison as a condemnation of the Getty. That's like trying to show that Long Day's Journey into Night is lousy because it fails in a comparison, on some arbitrarily chosen points, with, say, King Lear.

Also, you point out that the Parthenon took less time to build than the Getty, but the relevant comparison would be between the entire Acropolis complex--which had been the object of comparison up until this point--and the Getty, would it not?

Posted by: Mike Kelly on October 28, 2002 9:21 PM

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