The hottest ticket in town is not for the premiere of “Titanic” or the latest Spielberg picture. It’s for a museum opening, of all things — that is, if you can call the Getty a museum.
To be sure, the Getty seems more a Hollywood megamovie than a showcase for objets d’art: It is almost obscenely grandiose. It went hundreds of millions over budget. Its structures are steeped in computerized special effects. Its design became a subject of intense debate even before it opened. And it has “hit” written all over it.
In short, it is an edifice with which Hollywood can identify. And it better be. The $ 1.3 billion colossus will be the focus of a veritable orgy of celebrity-studded opening events starting next week. Cadres of critics and assorted opinion leaders will be herded in from around the world to do their mandatory “oohs” and “ahs.”
No edifice on the western reaches of L.A. has commanded this sort of brouhaha since 1924, when Louis B. Mayer persuaded President Calvin Coolidge and Will Rogers to help him unveil his MGM Studios in Culver City. (Rogers was an hour late, explaining, “I left my chewing gum in my other suit.”)
Since old Louis had an appetite for grandeur, he would have gone bonkers had he trooped around the Getty with me last week on a special pre-opening foray. Mayer thought he had achieved immortality at MGM with his white colonnades and rushing fountains. Well, he should see the Getty’s acres of travertine steps ascending toward Parnassus, the sprawling manicured gardens and the broad sweep of the multi-hued galleries and display halls with their intricately computerized skylights. Suddenly, the Louvre becomes Third World.
If the Getty seems almost excessively theatrical, this image has been fortified by the manner in which it has suddenly materialized on its mountain top, apparition-like, as though dropped from a passing spaceship. The Getty was constructed in semi-secrecy, as though its builders were almost embarrassed by their Olympian task. Motorists snaking through the Santa Monica Mountains along the San Diego Freeway were vaguely aware that something “big” was happening above them, but the common assumption was that it was yet another gaudy condominium project.
Now suddenly it’s there, like some crystalline castle floating in the clouds — a world-class museum plunked down in a town that has never taken much interest in museums.
How will Los Angeles receive it? At the outset it will surely be a tourist attraction of mind-boggling proportions, as though some crazed city-planner had decided to counterprogram Disneyland. The Los Angeles Times already is snootily dismissive, possibly because the site represents the unthinkable — a monumental structure that does not squat amid the grit of downtown L.A., to which all the other Times-backed projects have been consigned.
Armed with their untold billions, the Gettyites are not distressed by this reception. With their vast auditoriums, institutes and scholarship programs, it is their intention to infiltrate and enhance the pervasive pop culture of L.A.
They understand that it was an odd twist of fate that conspired to deposit this astonishing edifice at the edge of this semi-barbaric city that largely determines the styles and shapes of our global pop culture, its movies, music and TV shows.
So the fascinating question remains: Will the Getty actually infuse a little more culture into that pop culture? Since the Getty itself embodies such a weirdly grandiose vision, will that vision seep into the zeitgeist of its surroundings?
No one can even begin to answer these questions now, but one thing is certain: In a city that relishes evanescence, something wondrously, bizarrely permanent has suddenly materialized.
Los Angeles may never be the same.