GLAMi nomination: Central Garden Tour

nominated by: Steven Gemmel, J. Paul Getty Museum, USA
institution: J. Paul Getty Museum
category: Exhibition and Collection Extension

The Central Garden

Scene of two people utilizing audio tour while sitting under the bower of large bougainvillea plants
Sit back and listen…

Perched atop a mountain with views of city, sea, and sky, the Central Garden is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the Getty Museum. Given its dramatic design and dazzling array of plants, the garden has been a highlight of the Getty site for twenty years. What most visitors don’t know is that the garden is actually a work of art, designed by renowned contemporary artist Robert Irwin. It’s is considered part of the museum’s permanent collection; a work of sculpture. From the juxtapositions of plant colors and textures to the orchestrated sounds of moving water, Irwin conceived of the garden as an experiential artwork meant to engage each visitor’s unique sense of perception. To help visitors connect with the garden and learn more about it, the Getty developed a mobile audio tour that can be accessed using their smart phones.

The Mobile Tour

The mobile tour was developed to bridge the gap between the artist’s rather conceptual intention and visitors’ experience of the garden as potentially many things: an outdoor destination, a respite from touring indoor galleries, a place to relax, a place to play, an inspiration to gardeners. The tour consists of ten audio stops, including a promotional one, and an accompanying interface with a map of the garden. This combination of mobile interface and audio was a strategic choice, enabling wayfinding and allowing for freedom of movement and sensory immersion. The interface can be accessed via the visitor’s own mobile device or one provided by the museum. Through guided looking and especially guided listening, the tour sparks awareness and engagement with one’s surroundings. The tour uniquely balances information with explicit invitations to stop, listen, look, and reflect.

Thematic Range

Diverse voices were selected to address the garden’s richness of themes. A curator describes what makes this garden a work of art. A social activist gardener reflects on the value of nature in urban life. A landscape architect points out traditional elements and motifs associated with Japanese and French gardens. A mindfulness expert leads the listener through meditations on nature’s sights and sounds. Visitors hear stories about the garden’s creation from Jim Duggan, a gardener who collaborated with Irwin. The voice of Irwin himself, drawn from the Getty’s archives, underscores the garden as his realization of infinite possibility. A dynamic soundscape of music and special effects offers sensory immersion and a range of moods matched to areas of the garden. The themes of the audio stops range from meditations on gardens as symbols of life (“Leafy Shadows”), to celebrations of the color and diversity of plants (“Garden as World”). Some stops allow the listener to sit back and enjoy a story (“Pink Umbrellas”), while others ask the listener to lean into sounds and textures (“Musical Water”).


Signage in the garden is prohibited; therefore, the tour had to have its own wayfinding mechanism. The interpretive team developed an original mobile site, available with a personal mobile device or ones available at the museum. The interface includes a map of the garden with a route and listening-stop areas clearly marked. The tour doesn’t require listeners to stand in any one location. Rather, listeners can use the map and photos on the mobile site to find “stop zones,” within which they can move while listening. The audio itself includes verbal directions toward the garden’s varied zones, as well evocative descriptions of plants and architectural features that can help draw listeners through the garden.

While the tour is available via desktop, please access it via your mobile device for an optimal experience: