Internship at the Getty

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…)

The Getty Villa, a 1:1 recreation of the Villa of the Papyri, the most luxurious villa in Herculaneum

The Getty Villa, a 1:1 recreation of the Villa of the Papyri, the most luxurious villa in Herculaneum

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.

Click Here for a short movie on Bronze Lamp Conservation (Getty Villa)

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.

A Titian in Good Condition - Peter Kerber

"A Titian in Good Condition" - Peter Kerber

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.

Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant, a painting shown by Mary Morton
Marquise de Miramon, née, Thérèse Feuillant, a painting shown by Mary Morton

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.

Getty-ing better all the tiiiime!

Pretty lame, I know, but daaaang my internship just gets better and better. Today, I had the privilege of attending an extremely rare small convention (~35) of conservators, curators, scientists and arts officials from four places: the Getty (Museum Conservation, Curation and Conservation Science sectors), the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, the St. Louis Art Museum and a private collector-scholar from England. All the buzz and travel was for three bronzes of Saint John the Baptist (you know, the one who was beheaded?) coming from the two out-of-state art museums and the art collector. Getty Conservators (in Dec Arts and Sculpture Conservation– that’s me!) have been doing technical studies of bronzes of all kinds, but these three that are strikingly similar are a bit of a mystery.

First, everyone met in the lab and got their first glimpses of all three together. After some preliminary discussion, we watched presentations of the methods used by the Getty to analyze the bronzes: X-Ray, X-Ray Fluorescence, CT Scans, X-Ray Defraction and 3D Scanning. There was a lot of rabble going on by the time we got to the 3D scanning, as it’s probably the first time a lot of people have seen this kind of technology. Most of the comparison in the 3D scanning came through millimeter measurements of differences in the composites of the bronzes when they were overlaid. The company and discussion was pretty epic– but not so epic that a little ol’ antiquities enthusiast couldn’t keep up. I learned an incredible amount of information about bronze casting, small details, how to look for them and what they imply, and about the latest technologies that we use even in archaeology. The data was a bit time-crunched and some of it had significant margins of error due to faulty software and Italian holidays (oh the woes of technology and Europeans!), but overall the data put together was pretty amazing– nothing conclusive yet, unfortunately. I am extremely impressed with 3D scanning resolution on a small scale, and really looking forward to the data that will further come from CT scanning certain sections of interest (especially the threaded lugs).

During a break, I spoke with the conservation labs manager David Carson and the chief of conservation science about imaging techniques and PTM!!! Giacomo Chiari is the chief of conservation science and quite an inventor– he invented the Duetto, a device that XRFs and XRDs at the same time. He also tinkers with PTMing, and actually removed the small perfectly cylindrical ball from a fine point Sharpie and used it as a ball for PTMing under a MICROSCOPE. I heard about him from Mark and Carla of CHI, but now that I meet the man I can tell he’s a pretty kooky Italian guy who really just has a passion for gizmos (scientists are so cool!). I’m not going to get my hopes up too high, but he mentioned us taking some PTMs together. Not gonna get my hopes up… Not gonna get my hopes up… But I really hope it happens!

Anyway, as my internship continues to move forward, I feel like the answer to the overarching question that I’ve heard many times these ten weeks is becoming more and more clear. “What are you doing in an internship that deals with 16-19th century European decorative art when you’re an archaeology major with an interest in Asia?” The past two days I’ve been learning about a lot of stuff to do with Japanese lacquer and importation from Burma, as well as reading about archaeology notes from an excavation of a lacquer shop in southern Japan. Today, I learned details about technology that I never deal with at USC but have an opportunity to become intimate with here at the Getty– technology that is very relevant to archaeology. I’ve had tours of all the GCI labs, met the crazy people who work there, had my mind blown by the crazy equipment, observed the quirks between different conservation specialists, and next week I get to go to the Getty Villa for a tour of the labs there, galleries, and am meeting with a lab conservator there and their UCLA/Getty graduate who is a current intern. I’ve met with people who work on the Mogao Caves, on wall paintings in Turkey, and conserved a then-freshly excavated pyramid in Guatemala with wall art depicting a creation story chalk full of runes that pre-date Mayan writing and no one has figured out. Overall, I’ve explored a very real career path possibility sort of as a side track.

I should also mention that the database I’ve been working on is almost live! 🙂 To beat all the people who are going out of town, we had a farewell lunch for me yesterday and I got a very sweet card from the department and some REALLY COOL books: One is the GCI publication about their work on sites along the Silk Road (from 1993– they had to pull some strings to get me one!) and their published results of their Mogao conservation years. I am going to go home and read them now…

Now, I would never delve into the affairs of my sister, but it’s a pretty big deal when you’re leading a discussion group at the World Archaeology Congress (WAC). This year, it’s in Ramallah, Palestine. Kristin (my sister and an archaeology program graduate) will be leaving next week for WAC along with Ashley Sands (who posts here) and Georgiana Nikias (Archaeology ’07).

Just a plug.

Tomorrow I get to make a fun solution of tri ammonium citrate and tinker with that to get just the right pH to remove the rust off historic fasteners. It’s fun to work with chemicals. I finished toning the Marini appendage and it will be reinstalled soon. That was fun. first, i scrubbed all the old stuff off with shellsol (solvent) and a paper towel. then i mixed up some toned wax to color match the original cast of the sculpture (if you remember, the penis was a later addition) using dried pigment and molten veloz wax with solvent in it. i then painted the penis with the wax, let it cure a bit, then ran a solvented paper towel over it again and painted green powder pigment (to match the patina) onto the base coat. i’m going to let it cure overnight, then tomorrow morning i’m going to take it up to the sculpture and color match it further. i feel like this is really significant for some reason– not the penis, but the whole act of being given a piece of public art and told to fix it. i like it. it feels good. i’m just a lowly intern, but I just contributed to a piece of Getty art.

-Sarah Butler

this past monday was arts summit at the getty– a day-long quasi-conference of all the 121 interns supported by the getty (~$430,000 in support!) meeting together to explore professions in the arts by conversing in small groups with arts professionals. we had 5 sessions– i sat in on conversations with people working in historic preservation, curation, conservation, academia and media outreach respectively. i was most interested in conservation and academia, obviously– the two people in conservation were with the ucla/getty program and were interested in archaeology <3. i really wanted to go in depth with them about the options within that area of specialization, and about conservation on-site at an excavation. the women who was on the academia panel is a USC art history professor with a very nice accent. we spent time discussing the process of obtaining a Ph.D, the roads you can take afterward, etc… i still want to know about academic professions, like professorships and the process of gaining tenure. All these conversations about employment though were kind of daunting– no job security post-graduation, no good news about anything really. all mediocre news to bad news. damn this economy.

i met my “learning” community leader for the first time. he is… quite a find in the art world, as he has no undergraduate degree in anything. he somehow hustled his way up to the position where he is, and i have some respect for him. aside from his education, he was quite a character– very nice, and also very kooky. the others in my group are also quite a spread. one girl is from usc and is a fine arts major, and another has a sick internship on catalina island (HOUSING INCLUDED! if you have any idea about real estate, catalina is ridiculously expensive), and another was a chem major from amherst.

The majors represented by the general population of interns is pretty overwhelmingly art, architecture and related fields like urban planning and history of art/architecture. there wasn’t much talking going on, and a lot of us just sat there awkwardly before the sessions started, even though this is a networking event. Overall it was a relaxing day, even though I was pretty tired afterward.

Today I was analyzing some bronze mountings for the furniture conservator here and describing them and their conditions if there is anything outstanding…. And I found a lot of “crown C’s”! Back in the 1740s there was a tax on bronze, and all the bronze pieces that were created were stamped with C’s when the tax had been collected. Basically, this shows significant evidence that the clock that the mountings came from is a mismatch from the other pieces its displayed and was sold with! Hehe…

Also, I just visited Collections Reseach Lab run by the Getty Conservation Institute. Oh my god.. It was beautiful. XRF, XRD, X-ray, X-ray that is converted into CT scans! I was watching them CT scan a statue of St. John the Baptist and it was truly amazing how it’s converted (by freeware!) and then can be viewed like a 3D scan… But with x-ray vision! I work at the best place in the world… 🙂

Well, some excitement!

Just as I was finishing up lunch with some other interns today, we all noticed a lot of tourists taking photos of not anything Getty related– meaning to the north to a hill with (usually) nothing but a very carved-out fire road.  Today, however, there was a HUGE plume of smoke rising from the crest of the hill on the Sepulveda Pass, where there is a brush fire every year at some point. The flames were pretty visible from where I was…

The Getty was evacuated of course. One of the trams that takes visitors to the top of the hill was out of commission, and it was hell for them to get down, as the 5-0 weren’t letting them walk. The employee shuttle was only taking people down to the south gate at first, but my car is that the north parking lot down at the bottom. It was a crazy zoo to get out of there. I actually got to take this third road down that takes the driver down to a back section of Brentwood… I found my way to Sunset Blvd. and fled to safety here at the USC ArcLab, where I will proceed to GIS the crap out of some tutorials.

–Sarah Butler

So on the South Terrace of the Getty, there are a few sculptures that were donated along with the rest of the Fran and Ray Stark outdoor sculpture collection. One of them is of a boy sitting on a pony, Marino Marini’s Angel of the Citadel. When the sculpture was first cast, this particular one didn’t have a penis. It was just an anatomically incorrect boy sitting on his anatomically correct pony. Ray Stark saw one that had a penis, and decided he wanted his boy to have the privilege of being endowed as well… So he asked the artist to cast him one. Now, there is literally a screwed on detachable penis that looks like it was cast from the head of a broomstick.

Anyway, “a member of the public” (security calls them that) unscrewed the poor thing, and so it’s sitting on a paper towel in my desk drawer. My supervisor is currently applying a bit of apoxy to the void hole, but I have the honor and privilege to tone the base of the penis so it blends in. At first, Lorena Bobbit came to mind, not going to lie… But thanks anyway, Public!

I think one really obvious thing you can learn to really question while working at a museum is the public. They really are quite maddening. To compensate, underneath the Getty, there is a whole underground tunnel system spanning 3 floors that are full of offices and can very nearly get you anywhere on the Getty campus without ever having to see, hear or get the germs of the tourists that come in droves. I’ve already heard them called “wildebeasts”.

Yesterday a “member of the public” (some kid) pulled out a drawer in one of the galleries, which means security sends for a conservator to examine the damage. Every Monday, my department troops out to clean and examine 28 sculptures for any cases of “interaction”. What baffles me are the people who daintily step over the “Do not touch the sculpture” signs to get that money shot– especially the ones warning  “Do not touch the sculpture. Lead. Lead is known to the state of California to cause reproductive harm.” REALLY?! You want cancer and reproductive health problems from rubbing/breathing a SCULPTURE?! And you wouldn’t believe the scratches, footprints and other unsavory marks you’ll find on these sculptures. It’s ust crazy how misled the public must be to think they are appreciating art and then crawling all over and thus damaging it.

In other news, my internship is better than yours. This week I:

  • Weighed, melted and mixed the Zelov wax and solvent they use on the outdoor sculptures.
  • Got to wear my respirator (finally!) and wax/buff some sculptures
  • Had an explosive incident with the water hook up down by the tram… Came back from what is supposed to be a routine rinse and soap completely drenched.
  • Watch a reinstall of a cool tapestry
  • Lift training! I can now use a cool automated lift that will put you 25 feet off the ground.
  • Brushed out some urushi lacquer samples fresh from Japan and am now waiting for them to cure in a microenvironment of 100% humidity.
  • Scholar Tea. That is when all the scholars/interns get to drink delicious tea and snacks and just… bask in the glory of our egos? Sounds pretentious enough. But hey, it’s free.
  • Sat in on a lecture about XRF, mid- and near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy, UV-visible spectroscopy (in absorption and emission) and fluorescence imaging of contemporary art by a man from a university in Italy. He is part of MOLAB (MObile LABoratory) and was explaining their results in very… er… unstylistic? Terms. Mostly talked about the chemical compounds of Naples yellow, Renoir’s and Cezanne’s color palettes. There was free sodas and cookies (those in STARC and the lab will know my weakness for free refreshments). We all sort of fell asleep though, and left early.
  • Made B-27 solution with acetone in 5, 25 and 50% batches. No joke, science is so fun (when you aren’t being graded).
  • Got my stack reader/storage request number and privileges for the Research Institute. I always envision some novice dressed in white a la a medieval monastery library hurrying through dark corridors to fetch my books. Too imaginative? They really do have pages though… So cool. I requested about 8 books, so now I’m just waiting for them to cross-check some terminology.

This weekend is three days due to the 4th of July holiday on Saturday, but instead of Friday (which is an off day for some sections of the Getty– we get every other Friday off) we have Monday off, which makes next week only 3 days for me.

I’m seriously in love with my internship, and I can’t wait to bring back what I’ve learned here to the lab!

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