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Amid wildfires, Getty museum says art is safe

Building meant to withstand wildfires

(CNN) - The J. Paul Getty Center's extensive art collection will stay put even as wildfires blaze not far from the famed Los Angeles museum, according to Ron Hartwig, vice president of communications at the Getty Trust.

Police shut down about 9 miles of I-405 in both directions for much of Wednesday as flames swept down the foothills toward the highway near the Getty Center. The Getty Center and the Getty Villa, which are free to visit, were closed on Wednesday except for essential staff because of the fires and smoke.

Still, Hartwig said the art complex's plan has always been to keep the artwork in place in case of fire. The Getty is on a hilltop and has little accessibility, so it was designed by architect Richard Meier with disaster situations like these wildfires in mind, he said.

"The building was designed to be the best place to keep an art collection," Hartwig said.

The Getty Center has a sophisticated air filtration system that can reverse directions and push air out, Hartwig said. That system keeps smoke and ash from getting into the galleries and protects the collection.

In addition, the center's landscaping was designed with fires in mind. The plants with the highest water content are closest to the buildings, and farther out groundskeepers are constantly clearing brush, Hartwig said.

The center also has a 1 million gallon water reserve tank on site.

"This is the safest place the artwork could be in a situation like a wildfire," Hartwig said. "While we are worried and will be until the last ember is out, we believe the art collection is in the safest place they can be."

Hartwig, who was on site on Wednesday along with about 100 essential staff members, said he was still concerned that heavy winds might blow across the highway toward the Getty. But he said Meier was "brilliant" for thinking through all these scenarios.

About 2 million visitors explore the Getty Center and Getty Villa for their art, architecture and gardens, according to the Getty website. Famous works in its collection include Vincent Van Gogh's "Irises," Rembrandt's "The Abduction of Europa" and Edouard Manet's "Jeanne (Spring)."

The museum, which opened in 1997, took 13 years and $1 billion to construct. The Getty originated from the expansive art collection of J. Paul Getty, the founder of Getty Oil Company and one of America's richest industrialists.


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