T-minus 4.5 days until I a.) finish with the Getty b.) have to start getting ready for school c.) have no summer left (classes start on the 24t). It might be too early to start reflecting on my experiences here, but I’ve really had an amazing time here. I have a bit of down time right now, so this will be a fairly long entry (but interesting! always interesting…)
Yesterday the interns made the arduous journey to the Getty Villa in Malibu. I’d only been there once before for College Night last October… I actually got the info about this internship from Angie Kim, the program director who was there promoting the graduate internship (and scared me with statistics about who actually gets the internal undergrad Getty internships– it’s basically a 13% chance). That night there were plenty of epicurean delights and tours of conservation labs, and I think I spent more time ogling the colored marble inlaid floors/peristyle architecture than looking at the antiquities, wondering how you would ever furnish such a large estate… Given that experience, it was pretty amazing to have the opportunity to have a tour given by Marie Svoboda and Allison Lewis of the Antiquities conservation department, a nice introduction to the Georgian site of Vani graves’ excavation exhibit by the curator David Saunders, and a grounds/architecture tour by Ken Lapatin (who curated the Pompeii exhibit).
Ken’s tour was really something because we got to head off the public campus, see the remnants of J. Paul Getty’s zoo (a bear pit!!), and pay our respects to the man who pays our stipends. Yes, that’s right, we visited THE J. Paul Getty II’s and two of his sons’ grave sites. For a man who insisted on precision, classical grandeur, and made outrageous, lavish requests, his grave was incredibly simple– three large pieces of granite placed over him and his kin, plain, with a terrace wall made of similar granite behind him with their names listed. No sentiments, just names. The grave is located behind a moderately elaborate, small iron gate in a secluded grassy knoll surrounded by eucalyptus trees. Before the trees grew so large, the site must have had had incredible views. Here Ken gave us a lot of background on the man and how he worked his way from the OK oil fields to a Ranch House in the Malibu hills. He was basically Bruce Wayne (Batman for you who know not of DC Comics)– a young billionaire playboy, industrialist, traveler, and philanthropist. Secret moonlighting profession is unconfirmed.
I’d seen the conservation labs before (the organics, metals, stone and science), but the projects are always intriguing. Currently they are working on some Dresden Museum vases excavated from South Italy in the 19th century and analyzing prior restorations and original creation of the vases. The FTIR, X-Radiographies and UV photos are showing them amazing things about a 19th century restorer’s skills, and how he was making a genuine attempt to make blanks (to fill in holes in the vases) that were as close to the original pieces as possible. This makes me wonder about USC’s artifacts… The Getty’s current Vani exhibit brought them an Erotes lamp (lamp with a bunch of little Cupids) that was found in a cut rock pit. The Eros figures had corrosion all over them, to the point that the figures themselves looked like they were carved out of the rust. Some figures had spearpoints adhering to them because the corrosion had glued them together. The before and after cleaning is remarkable, and they left some corrosion on the lamp in the exhibit to show its history. They are also overseeing the objects for the upcoming exhibit on Aztec art and its connections with Greco-Roman art that is opening in March 2010., and monitoring this magnificent Roman eagle that suffers from “Bronze disease”, which is kind of like leprosy for bronzes. I met with Marie and Allison afterward for coffee to talk about antiquities conservation and their choices/career paths. It was great to learn about objects conservation in this context– now I have a pretty good picture about my options in this field… I should have popped in and picked up info about the UCLA/Getty Program.
The Vani exhibit is pretty. It’s like being at Tiffany’s but better, since it’s from Vani. Everything is extremely delicate gold with granulation. This made me reflect on the realities of archaeology and the difference between what is important and what goes in a museum. Not to say they are mutually exclusive, but animal bones and ancient poop would never be displayed in a high class joint like the Getty. There is a beautiful Romano-Egyptian mummy in the exhibit… Sigh. This trip made me excited to go back to school and learn more about Near Eastern Archaeology, of which I am woefully ignorant. But not too excited.
Other things that have gone on: My website is on a server so I am just inputting data. The Frenchies who have been building it are now on vacation
so I am putting whatever I have here online. Joanna, the Paintings Curatorial Department Intern, set us up with Peter Bjorn Kerber and Mary Morton, curators specializing in the pre- 18 c. and 18c.-present paintings respectively.
Peter’s talk was hilarious and informative. For those of us who have no curatorial experience, it was fascinating to learn about what sorts of decisions need to be made about purchase, quality, value, etc. His selection of works to illustrate his points were amusing, as he made sure to show us works by painters who are unknown and no one cares about but have amazing preservation, the value of a name (Titian), the importance of a piece to a collection rather than its value on its own, the importance of showing a school of painting, etc. When we came to the painter whose name is unrecognizable, Peter looked at us and asked, “Who do you think are the most requested painters by the public? As a large museum, which painters do you think they expect to see but aren’t here?” (The security guards were surveyed about the most asked questions that the public asks them). Everyone mentioned the Old Masters– Da Vinci, Raphael, Michaelangelo… Peter nodded yes, and added “Donatello”. To those of you who haven’t taken an art history course, Donatello is strictly a sculptor. Apparently, since he was part of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they assume he was a painter. Too funny.
Peter took us around to a few other paintings, including a beautiful portrait of Jesus by Reni on copper. I’m not too interested in the symbolism (I was personally tired of seeing Jesus– no offense Big Guy, but you’ve got galleries here in the Getty) but the use of materials was amazing– the choice of copper to illustrate the symbolism, the physical properties that ensure sustainability, the glowy-ness of the painting and the richness of the color because of the medium. I like that, back in the day, artists were chemists and understood their media. In that respect, art has an understanding with science, and they work together to create something beautiful.
Mary Morton is leaving the Getty for the National Gallery to be Curator of French Paintings. She’s that good. I like her sass, and she gave great talks on the pieces that she’s recently acquired and further elaborated on value and the process of creating a comprehensive collection. I also like that she didn’t take us straight to the Irises, or the Waterlilies, but to a Degas that didn’t have to do with ballerinas. And then to a Gauguin that they chased around Europe for 8 years, and finally have it up… Only to be oddly received. It’s pretty morbid, the subject matter being a decapitated head on a silver platter in Tahiti. I liked the choices of work to present, mostly because I can read about the Irises until I’m cross eyed, and each painting, though it may have been banal subject matter, had a fascinating story behind it. Hooray.
Wow that was a lot of typing… Kristin and comes home today from Israel/Palestine. Maybe I can get her to blog about it. We’ll see.