"I've always said that Getty-watching is like going to the Indianapolis 500," says John Walsh, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. "You're not there to see them go round and round. You're there to see them hit the wall." The Getty Trust, whose extraordinary wealth has made it a target of both envy and scorn, will open its flagship Getty Center on December 16. The billion-dollar museum and research campus, designed by Richard Meier and perched on a ridge in the foothills of California's Santa Monica Mountains, is the home of an art institution whose focus has expanded exponentially since the death of J. Paul Getty, its oil baron founder, in 1976.
Author Stanley Meisler chronicles the Getty's growing up--from its birth as a museum to house the uneven art purchased by an indifferent collector, through its reincarnation as a multifaceted organization encompassing five institutes, a grant program and a museum that is well on its way to being among the best. Meisler talks with the men charged with this transformation, Getty Trust president Harold Williams and Getty Museum director John Walsh; and to Richard Meier, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture, about the design of a hilltop campus to bring all of the Getty's activities together. "Many years from now, no one will remember that Jean Paul Getty was once the richest man in America," says Meier. "But they will know that this art center on the hill is named after him. And that should please him."