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The Getty Collection: Expression Through Luxury Collecting

“This passion for exploration was the driving force and fabric of this storied collection” - Christie’s (2022)

Very rarely is anyone who appreciates art as intellectually stimulated as when looking at the Ann and Gordon Getty Collection. A compilation of pieces collected over a lifetime, formed together in one house to make perfect sense and tell a story of human and art history. One could only imagine what it took to build perhaps the greatest assemblage of art pieces we have ever seen. All it took for Ann and Gordon Getty was to employ their zest.

Each individual has their own definition of luxury. For some that might be fashion, for others art, cuisine, quality living, or a life filled with experiences. Throughout our lives, we define what matters to us and then target our objectives to achieve those ideals. We invest our time and money into goods and experiences that have meaning to us. That inner love and passion for what feeds the soul, otherwise called our zest, is reflected in our investments. The idea of investing in specific aspects of luxury as a form of self-expression includes a high level of intimacy, as our core values are unique to us.

Ann and Gordon Getty showed what matters most to them through their collection of art pieces, interior design, and artifacts. In many ways, their collection exemplifies the idea of investing in luxury as a form of self-expression and the zest that drives us. The rich and intricate layering of historical pieces in one household is what makes the place so special. It includes paintings from Monet, Degas, and Picasso, alongside the finest furniture and even textiles, all of which Ann Getty acquired over decades of collecting. All of those years resulted in 1500 pieces with an approximate value of US $150 million. After Ann Gordon’s unfortunate death, thousands of artifacts were auctioned at the Christie’s auction house for the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation for the Arts in October of 2022.

What makes the collection unique is its diversity. Pieces from all over the world and through different ages serve as a timeline through art history. The writers at Christie’s auction house emphasize that “to delve into the Getty collection is to probe a thousand narratives of human existence” (Christie’s). Ann dedicated her life to finding exquisite pieces, each carrying its own story. She collected a lamp that belonged to Napoleon’s mother, the dancing Nijinsky by Jacques-Émile Blanche (which sold at Christie's for US $2,700,000), and fish vases that belonged to Nelson Rockefeller. The other bit that makes this collection so sensational is the arrangement of this variety of pieces. Ranging from great open spaces to music rooms, and Chinese-inspired rooms with precious porcelain, all of the artworks, artifacts, and even tapestries were organized in a way to complement each other. Each room told a story while being aesthetically captivating. Ann’s understanding and appreciation of the pieces she collected allowed her to make sense of them.

Ann’s upbringing and heritage contributed to her love and appreciation for culturally diverse and historic art pieces. Having grown up on a peach and walnut farm in Sacramento Valley, California, she was constantly exposed to science, experimentation, and exploration of the natural world. She was also a child of dutch immigrants, inspiring her exploration of “Netherlandish culture, ”such as “Delft porcelain and Dutch colonial furniture.” To deepen her knowledge of human and art history, Ann attended the University of California, Berkeley where she studied anthropology, biology, and paleontology. Aside from Ann, her husband Gordon Getty was the son of a distinguished oil tycoon and art collector, and he, himself, was a successful composer and philanthropist. The combination of Mr. Getty’s talent “of the ear” and Ann’s “of the eye” produced an incredibly unique and complementary artistic collection.

To enhance her understanding of the culture and creation process behind the art pieces she collected, she traveled to the locations they originated from. Furthermore, she participated in the discovery of art pieces through archeological digs, truly exemplifying the phrase ‘learn by doing.’ For one of her trips, she went to an ancient town called Jingdezhen in China’s Jiangxi Province to learn more about the production of porcelain. For another trip, she was a part of an archeological dig for

ancient remains in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley. According to Ann, participating in archeological digs refined her ability to depict “design details and fine variations of color.” Each step Ann took to expand her collection included transformative experiences like archaeological excavations where she learned “not only [have art] linked by style and taste, but also by historical significance.”

Ann and Gordon’s intense passion and love for collecting aesthetic and historic art pieces are what created this one-of-a-kind collection. Their “zest” for human and art history created something so original, so unique that it is deemed luxurious because of its exclusivity in content and creation. It is also exclusive because it satisfies Ann and Gordon’s desires and expectations with their respective talents. The eclectic collection of art speaks to where the Gettys’ priorities lay. Even while being “at the top of Forbes’s list of wealthiest Americans,” Gordon “drove an AMC Pacer, one of the least glamorous cars ever made.” To Ann and Gordon, the fanciful, ornate, and unique pieces, and appearances, were what mattered. Their priorities were investing in art that was valuable to them, not the masses.

Written by Isabel Crespo and Zoya Solaja

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