From 1961 through 1965, J. Paul Getty wrote a column for Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine. Getty (and/or his ghostwriter) had almost nothing to say about sex, and a lot to say about money. As the world's richest man, Getty's name was synonymous with wealth and was often featured on the magazine's cover. Getty was only secondarily associated with art, notwithstanding a small museum in Malibu bearing his name. (This was the original "house museum," predating the more notorious 1974 reconstruction of a Herculaneum villa.) Several of the Playboy columns discuss art, museums, and collecting. Getty's prime talking point, repeated with numerous variations, was that the average American male hates art.
The curator of a famous French art museum tells me that he can instantly single out most American men in even the largest and most heterogeneous crowds that come to his galleries. "It's all in their walk," he claims. "The moment the average American male steps through the doors, he assumes a truculently self-conscious half-strut, half-shamble that tries to say: 'I don't really want to be here. I'd much rather be in a bar or watching a baseball game.'"
[After Getty, entertaining an American industrialist in London, proposed a visit to the Wallace Collection]: "Good Lord, Paul!" he spluttered indignantly. "I've only two days to spend in London—and I'm not going waste an entire afternoon wandering around a musty art gallery. You can go look at antiques and oil paintings. I'm going to look at the girls at the Windmill!"
[Similar situation]: "Hell, I've already seen a statue!" one of the men snorted. "Let's go to a night club instead!"
Getty termed America's ruling patriarchy "educated barbarians" and diagnosed the problem as a deep-seated conviction that art is just for women and homosexuals. That thought, too, is expressed in Playboy's pages fulsomely.
I've found that the majority of American men really believe there is something effeminate—if not downright subversively un-American—about showing any interest in literature, drama, art, classical music, opera, ballet or any type of cultural endeavor. It is virtually their hubris that they are too "manly" and "virile" for such effete things, that they prefer basketball to Bach or Brueghel and poker to Plato and Pirandello.
In the best Hefner metrosexual mode, Getty plays up the studly side of art and culture.
Far from emasculating or effeminizing a man, a cultural interest serves to make him more completely male… Be it in a board room or a bedroom, he is much better equipped to play his masculine role…
Culture is like a fine wine that one drinks in the company of a beautiful woman. It should be sipped and savored—never gulped.
Did any of this James Bond-era gender politics factor into the design of the Getty Villa? Hard to say, but there is a Spike TV high concept in plunking a Roman orgy palace onto babe-rich Malibu. Anyway, one of Getty's most incontestable claims of Yankee barbarism is:
It's doubtful if one in ten Americans is able to differentiate between a Doric and an Ionic column.
That distinction is nicely addressed at the Villa, with its docent-friendly assortment of mix-and-match columns.