After Three Years of Work, the Getty Villa Prepares to Reopen With a New Look—and Koons’s Play-Doh
“Go to Pompeii and Herculaneum and see Roman villas the way they are now—then go to Malibu and see the way they were in ancient times.”
That’s what J. Paul Getty told the Los Angeles Times in 1974 when asked why he chose to model the Getty Villa’s design on an ancient Roman villa that was buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.
On April 18, the villa—a sister museum to the Getty Center that houses its Greek and Roman collection and first opened to the public in 1974—will reopen after a yearlong renovation and reinstallation that aims to more fully capture the history of ancient art. The new display reflects more than three years of work and research.
For most of its existence, the Getty Villa’s collection was arranged thematically. Works of art were sorted into categories based on their subject matter—athletes and competition, Gods and heroes, the Trojan War—regardless of the period, artistic movement, or geographic area from which they came.
Timothy Potts, the director of the Getty Center and an antiquities expert, recognized the need for change—not necessarily to boost attendance, but to make the museum more art historically coherent. It was one of his first priorities upon joining the Getty in 2012.
“I felt the artistry became lost in it,” Potts told artnet News of the previous display. “You could not experience visually the evolution of styles, iconography, and subject matter that occurred over time.”
The new installation, overseen by Potts himself, is arranged chronologically. Visitors will begin in galleries devoted to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages of Greek art, then move on to Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, and end with ancient Roman sculpture. The display will dust off rarely seen work, like first-century AD frescoes from a city near Pompeii.
“Our understanding of how and why those changes take place is the backbone of art history,” Potts explained. “It’s the way we show the whole rest of the Getty’s collection at the Getty Center, from the medieval period through to the brink of the 20th century and even up to today in the photographs collection. Why wouldn’t we do the same for the ancient collection, which is equally important in terms of artistic quality?”