Art Detectives on the Loose

Though I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area for almost 13 years, I’ve only been to the Getty Villa three times. I visited once in 1996 before the museum closed for a nearly 10-year renovation. I went back in 2007 with my almost-one-year-old. In fact, I have fond memories of Cooper “army crawling” on the tile around the fountain in the Outer Peristyle garden.

Then, I didn’t go back for almost five years. It probably had something to do with nap schedules, diaper changes and worries about the boys jostling ancient Greco-Roman pottery. But honestly, the biggest reason I didn’t go back was because I’d rather see a Rembrandt than a Roman drinking vessel.

I know my lack of enthusiasm is a direct result of my limited knowledge. I never studied the Greco-Roman world, and I know little about the culture and art work. One vase looked similar to all the others –until my most recent trip. The Getty has done a tremendous job of making ancient Greece and Rome accessible to children and parents as well.

Getty staff have developed three different sets of “Art Detective” cards. The front of each card directs you to a specific gallery, shows you a picture of an artwork and poses a question. For example, in Gallery 207, we were to find a statue of  a girl and figure out, “Why does this girl have a slot above her dress?” Once we found the piece, we flipped over the card to discover that coin banks were popular with Romans. The metal statue was an ancient piggy bank. Having additional information about the pieces on display made exploring the collection fascinating.

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In the Family Forum, the boys could dress up like ancient Greeks and Romans. (Note: It was hard to pull them away from the foam swords and shields.) A tactile display revealed how clay pottery was made. A collection of vessels explained the various shapes and functions of the pottery we would find in the collection. For example, drinking cups are wide, flat bowls with two handles. The boys could doodle on pottery using dry erase markers or decorate paper vases with rubbings. The Family Forum brought the collection to life through hands-on learning.

While at the Getty, we made our own perfume the ancient way during a “Spicy Scents” demonstration. We started with a base of olive oil. Then we crushed myrrh, rose, cinnamon, anise, coriander and other spices with a mortar and pestle. We mixed these with the oil to create our own ancient perfume. We learned that long ago, people would use these perfumes to beautify, worship gods, heal, work magic and show off wealth.

Finally, the Mummy of Herakleides was Finley’s favorite. We watched the mummification process video repeatedly. It showed how the Romans in Egypt removed the organs leaving the heart and lungs, salted the body for forty days, covered it in plant resin and honey and wrapped it. Finally, a they placed a portrait on top.

I would recommend the Getty Villa for anyone over the age of 3. While the Getty Center may be more well known, the Villa is original Getty museum. J. Paul Getty built the Roman-inspired villa in 1968  to display his art growing art collection. Aside from his priceless collection, visitors can enjoy the beautiful gardens with views of the Pacific Ocean.

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My happy place

The Getty Center is definitely my happy place. Ok, it’s not my ONLY happy place. I’m pretty content in just about any art museum, especially if it’s housed on beautiful grounds. I love major art museums like The Met, the Louvre and The National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), as well as smaller galleries like the Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, CA), The Phillips Collection (Washington, DC) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston).

I think my art addiction hearkens back to my early teens in Germany when my wonderful parents toted my brother, sister and me all over Europe in a Volkswagen van. I saw Michaelangelo’s David in Florence. At 15 I stood in the Louvre and vowed to come back and see everything. Years later, on our honeymoon, my loving husband spent at least three days holed up in the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay.

As a parent, a love of art and beauty is definitely something  I want to pass on to the boys. Because of the boys’ current interests, we spend a lot of time at science centers, natural history museums, zoos and aquariums. Still, at least every few months, I make sure we visit one of Los Angeles’s many art museums.

The Getty Museum is relatively easy to visit with small children. Parking is $15 per vehicle, but there is no admission fee. To get to the museum, you take a tram from the parking lot to the hilltop location. This is by far one of my boys’ favorite parts of the visit. Robert Irwin’s beautiful gardens are a perfect place to romp and burn off some energy. There are water features galore, which are especially inviting in the summer months. You’ll find numerous places to picnic, a great way to save money while taking in some culture.

A Family Room between the North and East Pavilions serves as a pit stop for parents of small children. Cooper and Finley used markers to contribute to a giant, erasable, illuminated manuscript. They lounged on the replica 18th century silk bed and read books. And, they used foam pipe insulation to build their own modern sculpture.

A new feature since we last visited was the “Be a Getty Art Detective” brochures with tear-out cards. There were two brochures: one for the North Pavilion and one for the architecture and gardens. In the North Pavilion we showed the boys the first of four cards: a picture of a lion’s paw carved of wood. The card posed a question, “Is this the foot of a cabinet or a lion’s paw?” Once we located the paw on a 16th century French cabinet, we discovered the answer was both. The cabinet had several lion’s paws that served as the cabinet’s feet. On the architecture/garden brochure, one card challenged us “travel back in time” by the South Pavilion sign. There we found a fossil of a leaf on the travertine, which dated back 8,000 years. These hide and seek card definitely made our visit more entertaining.

Yes, art museums are often quiet places where people talk in hushed tones and gaze intently at static artwork — not exactly somewhere you’d want to take a screaming toddler. However, many museums, like The Getty, are taking a more child-friendly approach, putting in children’s rooms, interactive displays and venturing into family programming. Art museum are definitely worth a second (or third or fourth) look when you are planning a family outing.