Palmyra, Plato and Play Doh: Getty Plans New Shows for Renovated Villa


LOS ANGELES — The only Getty Museum director ever hired with an expertise in antiquities, Timothy Potts has had ideas for re-envisioning the Getty Villa, home to the institution’s ancient Greek and Roman holdings, since taking the job five years ago. Starting April 18, visitors can see the results for themselves, as new exhibitions open to mark the unveiling of the seaside villa’s yearlong renovation and reinstallation.

Little-seen material, like newly conserved first-century A.D. frescoes from the Villa of Numerius Popidius Florus at Boscoreale, near Pompeii, is coming out of storage. Objects in the permanent collection are being rearranged, designed to present the history of Greek and Roman art in a more chronological manner, replacing thematic groupings like “gods and goddesses.” And a new ground-floor gallery will broaden this classical Mediterranean focus by examining art from related or neighboring cultures, one of Mr. Potts’s priorities from the start.

That gallery’s first show, a three-year exhibition, will feature funerary relief portraits from Palmyra, an ancient Syrian city that flourished during the Roman Empire, owned by the museum Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. “This is the finest selection of Palmyra sculpture outside of Syria,” said Mr. Potts, who earned his Ph.D. at Oxford in Middle Eastern art and archaeology before entering the museum field.

Jeff Koons’s monumental aluminum version of Play Doh will be part of the exhibition “Plato in L.A.: Contemporary Artists’ Visions” at the villa.Credit

For the occasion, he has also planned a contemporary art exhibition, which is rare for the Villa. “Plato in L.A.: Contemporary Artists’ Visions,” guest curated by the French cultural critic Donatien Grau, opens April 18 as well. One highlight will be Jeff Koons’s monumental aluminum version of a mound of colorful Play Doh, which might make you think of Plato.

“There is no question the Play Doh pun is intentional,” said Mr. Potts. “This is in some ways the most Platonic work that Jeff Koons has ever made — taking this mundane, ordinary object and giving it a presence or dimension that makes it more real than the real thing.”

Other artists included are Paul Chan, Mike Kelley, Huang Yong Ping, Rachel Harrison, Raymond Pettibon, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Joseph Kosuth, Whitney McVeigh, Paul McCarthy and Adrian Piper. “These are not artists who just allude to things in a poetic way. They have really engaged in some meaningful way with Plato’s thinking, whether about how to life the good life or the nature of reality.”

“We had to have a real reason to do a contemporary art exhibition at the Villa,” Mr. Potts added. “It couldn’t just be to shock or surprise visitors.”


An earlier version of this article misstated the length of time the Getty Villa will host an exhibition on artworks from Palmyra, an ancient Syrian city. It will be open for more than a year, not three years.

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