The Getty


From conservation to controversy, the Getty Trust operates on an international stage, beyond their museums.


An ancient Greek statue, found in waters off Italy, currently sits in the Getty Villa, a museum in Malibu. Who can really lay claim to it? The Getty believes it can, and is currently in a legal battle with the supreme court of Italy to ensure that it stays in Malibu.

The statue has come to be known as the "Getty Bronze" in recent years, but its official name is "Victorious Youth." It is the only surviving sculpture by ancient Greek sculptor Lysippos, said Noah Charney, an art historian and novelist living in Rome who helped found the Association for Research into Crimes against Art.

The statue portrays an athletically sculpted youth balancing his weight on his right leg while crowning himself with what is probably an olive wreath, historically used as a prize for victors in the Olympic Games. The statue is currently housed at the Getty Villa, where the Getty hopes to continue keeping its care, said Lisa Lapin, the vice president for communications at the Getty.

The statue is one of the most famous and iconic objects of antiquity, Charney said. There have been several rounds of legal proceedings, including one in which an Italian court ruled that Italy did not have a claim to it. However, since then further proceedings have shown new evidence that Italy claims to show that it is the rightful owner, Charney said.

Found in waters off the coast of Italy in 1964 by Italian fishermen, the statue was brought to Fano, Italy, where it was hidden in a garden underneath a cabbage patch, Charney said. It was eventually sold in the art market and went through multiple rounds of sale before the Getty purchased it in 1977 from German art dealer Herman Heinz Herzer.

“It went on view at the Getty Museum in 1978 and it’s been on view ever since,” Lapin said.

More than 30 years after the Getty’s purchase, the local Italian municipality claimed the statue was Italian cultural heritage and rightfully belonged to them, and began court proceedings to bring the statue back to Italy, Lapin said. The Italian supreme court's decision is a complete reversal of the 1968 decision which concluded the statue was not Italian property, Lapin said.

At the center of this conflict are the ideas of provenance and provenience, said Patty Gerstenblith, director of the center for art, museum, and cultural heritage law at DePaul University. Provenance in the art world refers to the history of ownership of a piece of art. Provenience, referring to archaeological objects, is the attempt to trace the piece of art back to its place of discovery.

In the case of the “Victorious Youth,” provenience is of utmost importance, Gerstenblith said. If a country can demonstrate provenience for a piece of art, then it has a right to demand that an item be returned. Issues of provenience are very common in the art world, Gerstenblith said.

The Getty and other museums in the past have been willing to return objects that, despite being purchased legally, have unclear lines of provenance, Lapin said.

For example, in 2006 the Getty returned 26 objects to Italy, according to a Getty press release. Twenty-five of them were on a list produced by the Italian Ministry of Culture, and the other is being returned after the Getty’s own research indicated that it was Italian property. The press release indicated that the Getty was hopeful some sort of agreement could be made with Italy to foster a system of long-term loans.

A graphic detailing the history of “Getty Bronze”
(Graphic reporting by Deirdre Klena/Daily Bruin, Graphic by Ye Jin Kwon/Daily Bruin.)

However, the case of the “Victorious Youth” is different. The statue was found off the coast of Italy. However, the Getty has argued that the statue's exact position was likely in international waters, Gerstenblith said, which makes it difficult to demonstrate provenience.

“If in fact it was found in territorial waters, then it would be owned by Italy and its removal without permission from Italy would make it stolen property,” Gerstenblith said. “On the other hand, if it was found in international waters, Italy is not the owner.”

The Getty, therefore, has argued that since the statue was likely found in international waters and the organization purchased it legally from a British art market, it has a legal right to the work, Lapin said. It has also claimed that the most recent Italian court ruling should not be relevant because the purchase was already considered acceptable 50 years ago, Charney said.

The Getty has remained steadfast in its position, Lapin said, and a reversal of this decision later does not change the legality of the purchase.

The Italian lawyers, however, have claimed the arguments presented by the Getty have been strange and at times illogical, Charney said. They have also accused the Getty of playing dirty, according to Charney.

For example, one of the Getty lawyers presented the argument that the “Victorious Youth” was not the same statue as one seen in a photograph presented by the Italian lawyers as evidence. However, Maurizio Fiorilli, one of the lawyers working for Italy's claim, provided evidence of the exact same photograph on the cover of a Getty publication, Charney said, negating that particular argument.

Charney said the Getty has had a particularly checkered past surrounding its acquisition of art. It has more money in its acquisition funds than almost any other museum in the world and therefore is always poised to buy valuable and rare goods that come on the market. But internal memos acquired by the Los Angeles Times indicated that people within the Getty were aware that some of the objects being purchased were of questionable or unclear origins, but decided to purchase them anyhow, Charney said.

Italy has argued that even if the object was found in international waters, it was then smuggled into the country and therefore becomes an Italian customs issue, Charney said.

“The fact that the fishermen brought it to Italy is the critical point,” Charney said. “Had they floated across the ocean to the U.S. directly, and sold it to the Getty then, that would be a different story.”

Following the latest decision, the Getty still asserts its right to ownership of the statue. Lapin said it is looking at its next legal moves, but will certainly continue to uphold its position.

“We do own it. We purchased it legitimately,” Lapin said. “Our philosophy is that museums exist to expose people to their cultural heritage and our cultural heritage, and especially here in the United States, our collective cultural heritage has origins in the entire world.”

The museum's antiquities stretch far beyond the "Victorious Youth" and are at times the focus of controversy. But when shown on display, they reveal more than just aesthetic appearance – viewers become aware of the intense battle for ownership of this artistic value, no matter how cumbersome its preservation may become.


At the Getty Villa overlooking the ocean at Malibu, ancient Roman and Greek frescoes, statues and paintings decorate the halls and marble walls. A daunting Hercules statue stands confidently on view in its own gallery. It’s here that graduate students in the UCLA/Getty Program on the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials learn how to care for ancient pieces of art.

Conservation is an integral part of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the umbrella organization which encompasses the Getty Foundation, the Getty Conservation Institute, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute. The Trust is one of very few institutions that lists conservation as equal to exhibition and curation in its mission statement, as opposed to others like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Broad, said Ellen Pearlstein, a UCLA professor of information studies and a faculty member for the UCLA/Getty program. The program is a collaboration between UCLA and the Getty Conservation Institute.

The Getty engages in conservation through three main paths. Research and practice by the Getty’s own conservateurs, or conservation specialists, take place at the Getty Conservation Institute located at the Getty Center. These conservateurs also practice at the Getty Villa. Finally, conservation is done through the graduate program with UCLA, said William Roy, a UCLA research professor of sociology and interim chair of the UCLA/Getty program.


What is considered when trying to preserve paintings?

Color of the paint

Age of the painting

Humidity and temperature in location of the painting

The artist of the painting

Pearlstein said preserving cultural heritage requires special training and that the art of conservation essentially is the art of preserving memories for the future.

“We have these materials that are significant to the understanding of all of humanity, and they hold memories for people that are passed down over many years and teach people about the people that came before them,” Pearlstein said.

Since its inception in 2005, the program has offered a masters degree and a Ph.D. in conservation. A degree in conservation constitutes a crossroads of the sciences and the humanities, Roy said. The program itself involves taking courses both in the history of the art as well as the scientific methods required for preservation.

A photograph of the “Attic Panathenaic Amphorae”
The “Attic Panathenaic Amphorae,” given to winners of the Panathenaic Games, were filled with olive oil from trees said to be sacred to the Greek goddess Athena. (Emily Ng/Daily Bruin)

The science-oriented lecture courses cover the structures and properties of deterioration for various materials such as ceramics and glass, as well as organics – natural materials – like stone and mosaics of old paintings, said Austin Anderson, a UCLA graduate student in conservation.

“We’re trying to make sure that the cultural material that the world has is here for future generations to enjoy,” Anderson said.

This scientific approach is integrated into the humanities-based portions of the program that are focused on understanding the historical components of the art, Roy said.

Every member of the faculty has a joint appointment, or designation, meaning they are equally involved in both conservation and another discipline that may or may not be related to art and conservation. For example, in addition to conservation, one faculty member is in the materials science and engineering department, Pearlstein is in the information studies department, Roy is in the sociology department, and the newest member will have a focus in art history.

Anderson said the program allowed him to combine his interests in art, history, archaeology and chemistry. This intersection of disciplines is an essential part of the study of conservation, which emphasizes an understanding of its significance in addition to knowing the physical processes, he said.


What’s the difference between archaeological and ethnographic materials?

Archaeological materials are dug up from the ground by archaeologists, while ethnographic materials are found by anthropologists in the field

Archaeological materials are older than ethnographic materials

Ethnographic materials are damaged, while archaeological materials are intact

They’re the same

Conservation is not an exact science, and at times it can be controversial. For example, the Sistine Chapel underwent restorations that yielded a significant amount of heated debate regarding the role of conservateurs, Roy said. A team of Vatican restorers had to decide how to repaint the walls of the chapel and how to go about making certain repairs. The restorers had to make judgments on whether to repaint the walls to look like how they did when the chapel was built or to leave them in their aged state, Roy said.

Oftentimes, concerns arise as to whether the art should show its history or be presented as it was at the time of its inception. Essentially, conservateurs are tasked with the question of how much of the history should be preserved, and how much of it should be reversed, Roy said.

Kenneth Lapatin, the curator of antiquities at the Getty museum, said there is an important distinction between restoration and conservation. Restoration is replacing something that’s missing or covering up damage. However, Lapatin said the goal of Getty conservateurs is to stabilize the improved condition of the objects, make them durable for the future and sometimes clean them up aesthetically.

In Southern California, a consideration in conservation and stabilization of ancient artwork is the potential threat of earthquakes. Getty conservateurs are world leaders in the field of seismic mitigation, Lapatin said, which is the reduction of potential damage done to art in the event of an earthquake.

“We know there’s going to be an earthquake here, we don’t know when, so we don’t just put things on the shelves and hope the earthquake doesn’t hit or that when it hits we’ll pick up the pieces,” Lapatin said.

Lapatin said the Getty museum has been working on ways to mitigate the potential damage of earthquakes and has been sharing these techniques with other museums and institutions around the world, including the Greek Archaeological Service.

All museums, even those outside of earthquake-prone areas, have to be concerned about stability. When institutions such as the British Museum loan pieces to the Getty museum, it becomes the Getty’s responsibility to care for the piece, and part of that care includes reducing any potential damage caused by earthquakes, Lapatin said.

Another aspect of conservation is the assurance that any intervention taken is recorded and can be reversed if necessary. Conservationists document every part of the conservation being done, trying to make everything that is done reversible, Anderson said.

During the Renaissance, if a statue was found without a head, they may have shaved down the jagged break in the statue and then attached a new head, Lapatin said. This type of intervention would be irreversible. He said modern conservateurs, however, would most likely leave the break, or if they wanted to attach a new head, would use molds and join the pieces together so that it could be easily undone without any damage.

An infographic comparing and contrasting The Getty, The Louvre, LACMA and MOMA
(Graphic reporting by Deirdre Klena/Daily Bruin, Graphic by Qirui Wu/Daily Bruin)

“You can undo the treatment and there would be no damage to the piece,” Lapatin said. “Any kind of integration of missing fragments or replacement of missing fragments, that should be reversible.”

These types of conservation techniques that focus primarily on stabilization of the pieces are at the core foundation of the Getty museum’s conservation mission. Logistically, the Getty has provided the graduate students with state-of-the-art conservation facilities, the most up-to-date tools and technology, and access to and guidance of the Getty’s own staff of conservationists, Pearlstein said.

The relationship between UCLA and the Getty museum has an important impact on not only the UCLA community, but also the greater Los Angeles and even world community, Pearlstein said. It teaches a new generation of conservateurs who will ensure that art, and therefore culture, is preserved. Its resources place it in a position to disperse large amounts of critical knowledge in the field of art and conservation, Pearlstein said.

“The Getty is very good at what they do," Anderson said. "Those who are good at what they do should have a helping hand in training the next generation.”


The glimmering Getty Museum can appear to be a faraway place, full of prestigious art that may perhaps seem hard to understand for an average person. But the J. Paul Getty Trust has made it a goal to change that.

Through multiple programs, the Getty Trust has the common goal of making art and arts education more comprehensible, particularly to students within the Los Angeles area. The programs include a single-visit program, essentially a field trip, for K-12 students, a photography initiative for teenagers, and administrative programs for teachers and school faculty. The Trust uses education to promote the idea that the Getty is available for all who wish to access it, said Erin Branham, the manager of school communities at the Getty Museum.

"We are deeply committed to making sure that students get a chance to find out that the Getty is a welcoming place that is for them," Branham said, "That art is accessible, that they have the tools necessary to understand and create meaning out of art."

Across its two locations, the Getty Museum sees about 165,000 children through programs every year. An important aspect of its single-visit program is the incorporation of bus funding for Title I schools, schools with student bases in which at least 40% come from low-income families, said Keishia Gu, head of education at the Getty Museum. Teachers can submit applications for funding, which the Getty then reviews. The Getty will pick up the cost of transportation for Title I schools within a 30-mile radius of the museum. The Trust spends about a million dollars a year on transportation for underfunded schools.

"The Getty does a tremendous amount of outreach, especially with the Title I bus funding where we're saying please come, please come, we'll pay for you to come," Gu said.

Once students arrive at the Getty, they are greeted by docents who lead them on a one-hour tour of the museum. They stop in all four of the galleries and often analyze specific pieces of art in each of the galleries to fully understand the pieces, such as the mediums used and the historical background. The tours, however, are not strictly planned, but function on a student-led philosophy that promotes spontaneity and uniqueness, Branham said. For example, the docents will ask students which pieces in the galleries seem interesting to them, and then the group will focus specifically on those works.

"We generally start on some general tips on how to look at art," Branham said. "Then we ask the students to tell us what they see, what they're interested in and what they're curious about, and the tour proceeds from there."

In addition to single-day visits, the Getty also has programs geared toward student in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, Gu said. The Getty Conservation Institute, which works with both the scientific disciplines of art conservation and humanities-specific subjects such as history, is where many of the labs take place. In these labs, students focus on how the various subjects play a role in art, Gu said. For example, they learn about the scientific process that is involved in conserving ancient art.

The Getty also provides a summer program that trains older students to become tour guides as part of an internship, Gu said. This allows the Getty to expand its docent program while simultaneously giving students exposure to careers in the museum industry.

There is also a college program that provides behind-the-scenes tours during which students can see art that is not on display and visit parts of the museum that are usually closed to the public. This program is often run in conjunction with history and art history professors who are aware of the program and encourage their students to participate, Gu said.

"For us to do these educational programs, it's our way of really opening the Getty doors and saying let's give you that look, let's give you that peek," Gu said.

Teachers and school faculty are essential colleagues for the Getty in integrating an arts education into students’ learning. For the last four years, the Getty has partnered with the Inner City Education Foundation, a set of charter schools in South Los Angeles. Through this partnership, the Getty has embedded its own staff among the schools' core subject as well as visual and performing arts staff to encourage art-heavy curriculums, Branham said.

The Getty staff helps the core curriculum staff by integrating the arts into pacing guides, which direct the teachers as to what they should be covering throughout the year, Branham said. The art-heavy curriculum is centered mostly around language arts classes with a specific emphasis on writing and engaging students in what they're learning. An arts education can also improve students' social-emotional learning and empathy, Branham said.

"We've seen a tremendous change in those schools in the past four years in their interest in and ability to integrate the arts into their curriculum," Branham said.

Another program offered by the Getty is Unshuttered, a 10-week, intensive routine centered on digital photography, said David Bowles, the Getty's education specialist for youth development.

During the most recent Unshuttered program, 10 competitively selected teenagers worked on various photo challenges in which they were able to build skills, both formal and informal, Bowles said. While they learned technical skills focused on how to take photos, the teens were also guided in areas such as how to interview subjects prior to photographing them.

Through outreach via social media, students were offered the opportunity to apply to be part of the program. The selection process for the program aimed to bring together a varied group of students from different backgrounds that would be chosen for both their skill and potential ideas, Bowles said.

"You want 10 really unique perspectives, unique backgrounds, unique styles of using the tool," Bowles said. "So, we really tried to balance the group and make sure we had a wide variety of voices, a wide variety of perspectives to bring to the table."

At the conclusion of this year's program, there will be a temporary exhibition at which the teenagers' photographs will be on display at the Getty. The participants will therefore be able to say they have work on display at the Getty, which Bowles said is one of the most exciting components of the program.

Branham said she hopes the public understands that the Getty and the art and culture found within it are accessible. Access to the arts becomes incumbent upon the museum to provide opportunities and exposure, particularly for those in underserved areas, Branham said.

"We believe strongly in the arts as a powerful piece of every student's learning; it's part of being a whole human being," Branham said.