Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center

Soon-to-open Getty Center is getting so much advance publicity that the story's threatening to crowd Wolfgang Puck off the pages of the L.A. Times. KCET weighs in with four specials centered on the center, of which "Concert of Wills" is the second. Commissioned and copyrighted by Getty Center Trust and filmed over a 13-year period, "Concert of Wills" examines --- perhaps more even-handedly than one might expect --- the construction of the mammoth hillside museum and library complex, and conflicts among the architect, the trust itself, the museum director (all of whom have their own ideas of what an art museum must accomplish) and Brentwood neighbors, who don't want their rustic view threatened. Colossal money is involved, and colossal ego.

Soon-to-open Getty Center is getting so much advance publicity that the story’s threatening to crowd Wolfgang Puck off the pages of the L.A. Times. KCET weighs in with four specials centered on the center, of which “Concert of Wills” is the second.

Commissioned and copyrighted by Getty Center Trust and filmed over a 13-year period, “Concert of Wills” examines — perhaps more even-handedly than one might expect — the construction of the mammoth hillside museum and library complex, and conflicts among the architect, the trust itself, the museum director (all of whom have their own ideas of what an art museum must accomplish) and Brentwood neighbors, who don’t want their rustic view threatened. Colossal money is involved, and colossal ego.

The Getty Trust (represented in part by prexy-CEO Harold M. Williams) has founder J. Paul Getty’s ideas and image in mind; museum director John Walsh presumably knows how art should best be exhibited; architect Richard Meier presumably knows about buildings (and has designed several museums); and Brentwood residents have to live in proximity to the center. Problem, of course, is how to satisfy everybody.

Going gets rough, in part because (as Meier confesses), “We’re building (the center) while we’re still drawing it.” Documaker Albert Maysles’ crew catches disagreements such as the one based on Meier’s love of white surfaces: Neighbors don’t want the buildings’ exteriors to stand out so much, and Walsh doesn’t like to hang old art on white walls. Brentwood residents and Walsh eventually triumph, with Meier grumbling about their “rather whimsical attitudes, it seems to me, about what color means in architecture.”

More than one of the principals regard the “little people” (meaning everybody except them) with an elitist attitude; at one point early on, Williams explains (regarding neighbors’ reservations) that “most people are not art aficionados … most of them have not had any art education.” And thus should have no input into that huge complex of buildings crossing their view, it’s implied.

People’s advocate in all this is Getty Trust veep Stephen Rountree, observing — accurately, it appears — that architect Meier “seems to have an almost hostility toward (center visitors’) comfort,” and that Meier “was more interested in how the building would look from the outside rather than what would go on inside.” Thus Meier’s insistence on much natural light, through windows and skylights, even in an auditorium to be used mainly for lectures, films and slide shows.

As the end of construction nears, everybody’s professing pride in the compromised result, and everybody will probably wind up taking credit for it. And the audience breathes more easily, knowing that everybody involved can now go on to do what they do best.

Film is fascinating throughout, both for the ultimate beauty and scope of the project, and for the ability to watch grown and successful men protect their turf from one another and from the Philistines without. A little less of that, and a little more of the physical aspects — like the cutting of stone in Italian quarries and its transport to L.A. foothills — might have provided a more rounded view of the 13-year process.

What’s needed now is a story on the Getty Center marketing and publicity team, who (among other accomplishments) persuaded a prestigious local station to show the Getty Trust’s home movies.

Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center

Wed. (17), 8-10 p.m., KCET

Production: Wed. (17), 8-10 p.m., KCET

Produced by Maysles Films. Executive producer, Gloria Gerace; producer, Susan Froemke; co-producer, Douglas Graves; associate producer, Susan Brignoli;

Cast: Camera, Albert Maysles, Christopher Lanzenberg, Christian Blackwood, Robert Richman, Giorgio Urbinelli; editor, Bob Eisenhardt; music, John Goodman; sound, Bruce Perlman, Michael Reilly.

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