I was thinking about the Getty Museum recently and remembering its dramatic outdoor spaces with their killer views of Los Angeles. While I’m not a huge admirer of Richard Meier and the Getty design doesn’t bowl me over, I was impressed with how the building takes advantage of light and shadow, its brilliant white travertine against its desert canyon setting, the pleasant outdoor café and the wonderful Contemporary garden. I realized the most profound lasting impression of the museum was that I couldn’t remember a single piece of art.
This got me thinking about museum buildings and what constitutes successful ones. I was puzzled because the Getty is basically a conventional rectilinear building as opposed to say, the Guggenheim in New York, which I would characterize as unconventional given it’s circular shape. But while I do delight in the Guggenheim's design when I visit, I also always manage to see, appreciate and remember the art, whether it's a retrospective of Yves Klein—mostly 2-dimensional work or MatthewBarney which included video and installations and even incorporated the building into the work. Part of the fun there is seeing the art across the central atrium, and then again up close.
So are my Guggenheim memories more vivid because the art is just better there, or is the Getty (and its kick ass setting) just too distracting for the art it contains?