Culture and California have long been thought of as contradictory concepts, with much of the West Coast being characterised by an image of vulgarity and superficiality. Hollywood and hippies did little to ameliorate this, any more than did big beaches pounded by an even bigger ocean. But no longer. JP Getty, Norton Simon, Armand Hammer, Henry Huntington, Los Angeles County: these are among the names which signify to the well-informed that America’s West Coast is one of the greatest treasuries of art in the world.
The Getty Center remains the most newsworthy, though the hilltop site has been open for eighteen years. With all the resources with which it is blessed, Richard Meier’s designs, and the vast accumulation of art of the highest quality, this is one of the most sensational modern museum for very many years.
Though modern art is a major theme of the tour, there is a sufficiency of Old Masters and historic decorative arts to satisfy those who find twentieth-century art less than accessible. Asian art is also very well represented – only the Pacific lying between it and its place of origin. But even without the contents, the museum buildings themselves – some of them among the most significant architectural creations of recent times – would provide ample beauty to justify the tour.
It is a tour to, rather than of, the West Coast. There will be no Disneyland, no Universal Studios. But outside the galleries there is the fascination of life in the cities, very different from twenty years ago, and amazing contemporary architecture. Between the cities there is the landscape: vast, empty, glistening green, sometimes Mediterranean in feel, sometimes reminiscent of farmland in temperate northern Europe.
London to San Diego. Fly at c. 1.45pm from London Heathrow to San Diego (British Airways) arriving c.5.00pm (flying time: c.11 hours 15 minutes). Drive to La Jolla, a smart town on the Pacific just outside San Diego. First of two nights in La Jolla.
San Diego, La Jolla. Drive to Balboa Park to visit the San Diego Museum of Art, a wide-ranging collection particularly strong on Spanish art. Visit the Timken Museum, one of the finest small museums displaying European masters in natural light. Free time to visit the gardens, the Art Institute or Museum of Photographic Arts. Overnight La Jolla.
La Jolla, Los Angeles. Drive north to Los Angeles. Afternoon walk Downtown to see two architectural masterpieces: Rafael Moneo’s cathedral and Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Broad is home to one of the most prominent collections of contemporary and postwar art worldwide; opened in 2015, and designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, it is another leap forward in the rejuvenation of Downtown. First of four nights in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles. The LA County Museum of Art has a staggeringly rich collection with a large European section as well as magnificent examples of ancient Asian, Egyptian and pre-Columbian art. The museum campus was extended by Renzo Piano in 2010 and now includes The Museum of Contemporary Art with displays of American art from the post-World War II period in all its forms. Overnight Los Angeles.
Malibu, Los Angeles. In Malibu visit the Getty Villa, now dedicated to Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities. Continue to The Getty Center: Richard Meier’s series of gleaming pavilions strung along the crest of a hill is famously the best-endowed art museum in the world. Collections range from Old Master drawings to French decorative arts, from mediaeval illuminated manuscripts to classical antiquities, with masterpieces of Renaissance and later-European painting. There is time to explore the gardens and terraces, a haven from the sprawling LA far below. Overnight Los Angeles.
San Marino, Pasadena. The palatial Neoclassical residence of railway baron Henry E. Huntington contains a fine collection of British art, including Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. The marvellous gardens present many different styles and forms. The Norton Simon Museum in nearby Pasadena has a wonderful collection of European painting and sculpture, in particular 71 Degas bronzes, beautifully displayed. Overnight Los Angeles.
San Francisco. Morning flight to San Francisco. En route to the hotel, visit Mission San Francisco de Asís. Founded in 1776, it is the oldest surviving structure in the city. Introductory walk before dinner. First of three nights in San Francisco.
San Francisco. On the other side of the peninsula amid Monterey pines and cypresses sits the pristine colonnaded Palace of the Legion of Honor. Here French art, particularly Rodin sculpture, is prominent. The Golden Gate Park is a centre of cultural and botanical beauty and is home to the de Young Museum with its collection of American Art from the pre-Columbian era to the present day. Overnight San Francisco.
San Francisco. The morning is spent in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, an internationally recognised 20th-century collection. The building is a further highlight, designed by Mario Botta in 1995 with recent additions by Snøhetta. The afternoon is free for independent exploration; suggestions include a cruise around the Bay and to the Golden Gate Bridge, or a train ride to Berkeley, a leafy university campus with a contemporary art museum. Overnight San Francisco.
San Francisco. The Asian Art Museum holds the finest collection in the US. At Stanford University campus visit the Cantor Art Center and Anderson Collection. Continue to San Francisco Airport for the overnight flight to London Heathrow at c. 8.30pm.
Arrive London Heathrow at c. 3.00pm.
Gijs van Hensbergen
Art historian and author specialising in Spain and the USA. His books include The Sagrada Familia (2017), Gaudí, In the Kitchens of Castile and Guernica and he has published in the Burlington Magazine and Wall Street Journal. He read languages at Utrecht University and Art History at the Courtauld, and undertook postgraduate studies in American art of the 1960s. He has worked in England, the USA and Spain as exhibitions organiser, TV researcher and critic and is a Fellow of the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies at the LSE. Twitter: @GvanHensbergen | Website: gijsvanhensbergen.com
Price – per person
Two sharing: £5,870 or £5,190 without flights. Single occupancy: £6,910 or £6,230 without flights.
Flights (World Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 830); flight on day 7 from Los Angeles to San Francisco with United Airlines (Boeing 737-800) is included for all participants; travel by private coach for airport transfers and excursions; hotel accommodation; breakfasts and 6 dinners with wine, water, coffee (plus meals on flights); all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
British citizens can enter the USA without a visa by applying for a visa waiver online. We will advise on this. If you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 2011 you are not eligible for the waiver and will need to apply for a visa.
La Valencia, La Jolla: colourful hotel with eclectically furnished rooms, gardens and pool overlooking the Pacific. Omni Los Angeles, Downtown: well-equipped, functional hotel with spacious bedrooms. Palace Hotel, San Francisco: an elegant 5-star hotel, located within walking distance of Union Square. Rooms are classically furnished, of a good size and excellent standard.
There will be a lot of standing in museums, a fair amount of walking and getting on and off coaches. The tour is relatively strenuous and there is an 8-hour time difference from the UK. Average distance by coach per day: 66 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.