Saturday, January 23, 2016

Roadboy Returns to The Getty

Visiting Again Two Decades Later

The Hilltop Getty Center

This weekend I had the chance to return to the hilltop Getty Center in Los Angeles.  The trip was provoked by the chance to view a special exhibition of tapestries from Versailles (which sadly may not be photographed). 

A little background. My first visit to the Getty Center was a 1998 architectural pilgrimage shortly after its opening, when the Getty was being lauded as a modern icon in American architecture.

I remember being pretty underwhelmed at what so many cost overruns (a final price tag of $1.3 billion) and nearly a decade worth of construction delays had finally delivered.

Here was a site where an owner decided to grade 24 acres of prime hilltop land until it was fully subjugated to accommodate a series of soulless little "Plopling" pavilions.

Little about the buildings evoked any real sense of the energy or history of one of America's great cities. Instead the history and vocabulary of Los Angeles was ignored delivering architecture that could be dropped almost anywhere. A bland generic complex exclusively using two types of stone coupled with an "every color as long as its white" pallette.

As a firm believer in the concept of "Site Repair" (as articulated so perfectly in Christopher Alexander's wonderful book Pattern Language), I contend that a monumental project (like the Getty Center) failed in its once-in-a-lifetime responsibility to repair a damaged site (of which there are plenty in LA), rather than consume one of its last and most pristine untouched hilltops.

Alas Roadboy's crocodile tears irrigate nothing as that ship sailed two decades ago.

So here's what I found upon return.  The Getty has matured nicely. Its buildings and gardens clearly reflect years of meticulous care. And, its cultural treasures are still offered free of charge to over 1 million visitors a year. Just a marvelous gift.

Parking no longer requires a reservation, but does cost $15. Since parking is now first come, first served, plan to arrive early.

After parking you still ride little white (is there any other color?) people movers up the hill. So LA, So Disney.

Upon disembarking everyone arrives at a ceremonial series of steps.  My first gaze on the steps was Charles Ray's "Boy With Frog" which I mistakenly thought must have been moved here after being removed from the Punta Della Dogana in Venice.

A little digression. In 2011 on a Sunday morning walk I literally stumbled upon this larger-than-life sculpture (it was a leftover from Venice's 2009 Biennale). Venice's "Boy With Frog" enjoyed an elegant (perfect?) site on the Punta Della Dogana.

But, after a little research, I came to realize my first impression (that Venice's Boy had been moved to the Getty) was wrong. The Getty's Boy was installed in 2011 and Venice's Boy remained on the Punta Della Dogana until its forced removal in 2013 (only to be replaced by a "historic" street lamp).  Anyway Venice's sculpture remains in storage.

While I hoped the Getty's Boy might be a permanent acquisition (especially since its artist is from Los Angeles), alas, it is also identified as a temporary installation.

Boy With Frog 
(Charles Ray)
 At the Getty Center 2011-Present

 Boy With Frog
(Charles Ray)
Punta Della Dogana Venice 2009-2013

From the entry court guests proceed into a reception center where an orientation film is well worth viewing. We availed ourselves of free I-pod (offered to provide descriptions of many of the items at the Getty).

An Orientation Model of the Getty Center
The collections include a wide and varied selection of art that spans the history of mankind. It is all well displayed and most is very approachable.

 An Allegory of Passion
(Hans Holbein)
About 1532-36
(E Cosi Desio Me Mena = And So Desire Carries Me Along)

I loved this small painting on wood of a horse and rider. Note how the classically clad rider glares directly into your eyes with his all-knowing gaze. The wonderful audio explanation was from the perspective of the horse.

One of the more interesting objects in the collection was the huge bronze "Vase Monumental". When examined close up you find motif's of monsters, bats, even snails that seem to be designed for the Addam's Family.

Vase Monumental 
Jean-Desire Ringel d'Illzach 1889

Detail: Vase Monumental
(Note the strange creatures emerging above the bust)

The vase has been searching for a permanent home since 1889 (when it has first displayed at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition - where it was overshadowed by a certain tower). This one is Edgar Allen Poe creepy.

Site art and landscaping, despite plant materials suffering from heavy use and California's on-going drought looked pretty stunning.

The Central Garden
(Robert Irwin)

A Stream Introduces Sound 
& Opportunities to Just Be A Child

Despite misgivings about what it "could" have been, the Getty Center "is" a wonderful museum and gift to the world.

Don't forget that the Original Getty Villa at Malibu is still available to enjoy as well. The Villa houses classic collections of Roman, Greek and Etruscan art. It has strict rules for access as well. Be sure to study the Getty's very helpful website here for tips on arrival, parking and dining information.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

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