The Getty Villa Museum in Pacific Palisades reopened today, April 21, with an impressive exhibition, “Mesopotamia: Civilization Begins.”
This was the exhibit set to open in March 2020, before Covid restrictions shut the museum.
According to a Getty press release (“Mesopotamia: Tales from a Delayed Exhibition”), the idea to bring this collection to L.A. began in 2016, when Director of the Getty Museum Timothy Potts saw an exhibition at the Louvre titled “L’Histoire Commence en Mesopotamie.”
Potts saw this collection as a way to place Getty’s permanent antiquities collection in the broader context.
Mesopotamia, now present-day Iraq, has long been considered one of the earliest urban civilizations (3400-3000 BC). It included infrastructure, the earliest system of writing and sophisticated architecture, arts and technologies. The great cities of Babylon and Nneveh had temples, palaces and city walls. There the foundations were laid for future mathematics and astronomy.
According to the Getty, “For some three thousand years, Mesopotamia remained the preeminent force in the Near East. In 539 BC, however, Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and incorporated Mesopotamia into the Persian Empire. Periods of Greek and Parthian rule followed, and by about AD 100 Mesopotamian culture had effectively come to an end.”
It was determined that about one-third of the original Louvre exhibition (450 pieces) could fit into the Villa’s gallery spaces.
Villa workers used portable scanning equipment to capture high-resolution 3D images of the pieces that were to come to California. Individual anti-seismic mounts were constructed to display the pieces in earthquake-prone Southern California.
Then, starting in February 2020, objects that ranged from small, delicate cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets to large stone sculptures began arriving in Pacific Palisades.
The crates were accompanied by Louvre curator Ariane Thomas and two colleagues, who came to oversee the installation.
Halfway through the installation here, France was hit by a first wave of Covid-19 and the Louvre closed its doors. Luckily, the Mesopotamia loans had already arrived.
The installation was completed on Friday, March 13, the day before the Getty closed its site to the public. It was also one of the last days for the Louvre workers to return to France, which they did, before the nearly one-year shut down in L.A. County.
“Mesopotamia” occupies a third of the Villa’s upstairs galleries and is perhaps the largest exhibition of Mesopotamian art on the West Coast to date. It will be available for viewing through August 16.
Admission is free, but timed-entry reservations must be made in advance. The museum is closed Tuesdays. Face masks and a temperature check are required. Box lunches and drinks will be for sale and visitors can skip lines by pre-ordering and paying online. (Visit: getty.edu/visit/villa/)