“My love of fine art increased – the more of it I saw, the more of it I wanted to see.”
J. Paul Getty
Some of us old-timers remember Valentine Zorin’s (a prominent Soviet propagandist) blood-curdling stories about billionaire Paul Getty, whether it was his superhuman level of cunning or cupidity. There’s no reason to think, though, that there aren’t nuggets of truth in these tales. It is true, in fact, that after criminals kidnapped his grandson (Getty’s, not Zorin’s), they demanded a ransom of 3.2 million dollars, and Getty responded by saying, “I still have 14 grandchildren, and if I pay this ransom, it will put them in danger, as well.” He then received his grandson’s ear in an envelope, with a promise that he’d receive the rest of the bodyparts piecemeal if he didn’t send money within 10 days. The kidnappers finally reduced the ransom to 3 million, but Getty said that he would only pay 2.2 million (which was the maximum amount that was tax deductible), and then loaned the remaining money to his son with 4% interest. After his grandson Paul III was freed, he tried to call his grandfather to thank him, but Getty refused to answer the phone.
So the question is: was there any good in this man? Well, yes, there was.
Back in 1974, the oilman used his considerable wealth to amass many valuable items, but understanding that they would not follow him beyond death, he opened a museum in Malibu. There, he built a massive replica of the Villa dei Papiri. The ivory-white buildings are of such an eternal, solemn beauty that it reminds us of our own mortality. Most of the remains of the original “Villa of Papyri” were buried underneath the ashes of Vesuvius, so there is a good reason for their unsightly appearance at the Herculaneum, but some of its treasures are still even better than those in Pompeii.
In 1997, many of the more valuable paintings and ornamental pieces were moved from the old villa to the nearby Getty Center for display, and the Villa was closed for renovations and inventory. Fortunately, not all was taken, and many important pieces of ancient art remained. Then, ten years ago, it reopened. The pieces there range in age and origin from 6500 BC to 500 AD; none of them are more recent than that. Gods, goddesses, the Trojan War – they are all there, including a library. It’s better to study history in this setting, of course, rather than through Wikipedia, because you are able to employ your senses through the soul and spirit of a 2400-year-old medium.
The main thing for me, though, isn’t all the priceless relics or absolutely perfect layout. The most wonderful thing is that it rose from the ashes of the original Villa. Its sonorous rooms, filigree gardens, perfect cascades of water, and magical Paul Delvaux-esque atmosphere – it was all brought back, miraculously, through space and time, and it shines brightly against the oil-stained suit of the ruthless tycoon Paul Getty.
Tickets to the Villa are free, but you must reserve them in advance, and parking is $15. However, the experience is unparalleled, and it is something that in the future will be difficult for you to distinguish from a mere dream – one from which you will never escape.
Address: 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, which is not far from Benjamin Eye Institute.
Text: Vadim Avrukin
Translation: Richard Crenwelge
Photo: Tatiana Minchenko, Irina Sokolova