It is not, in fact, the case that I do nothing other than gallivant around California behaving like a woman on vacation. In the past week, I’ve worked, walked, cooked, celebrated a birthday, helped someone figure out an experiment to test the crispness of potato chips, and read three chapters of The Penderwicks out loud.
But this weekend, I had the enormous pleasure of being picked up at my house by a friend who was not there to do the carpool. We flew down to Los Angeles with two other friends. The first thing we did after getting off the plane was drive to the Getty Musem.
And there I realized that I have no systematic method for visiting a museum. In my four decades of life, all I’ve learned is that it’s a big mistake to look at pictures or anything on a wall or a pedestal for longer than an hour and a half. I did like our visit — and although it stretched to three hours — it was actually pretty satisfying. It went like this:
11:45 p.m. Arrive at museum. Actually, arrive at museum parking lot. Why are there so many parking lot attendants at the Getty? Three people pointed us in the direction of the underground garage, the entrance to which was directly in front of our car. In fact, unless we suddenly put the car in reverse, there was really no where to go besides the garage.
12:00 p.m. Tram up to museum. The museum is not meant to be seen in the same landscape as motorized vehicles. For this reason, it looks like a bunch of very clean white buildings that were airlifted directly out of the architectural model, given a healthy dose of construction steroids and plunked down on top of a mountain overlooking Los Angeles. Am not sure I like being a stick figure in an chic architectural model. Notice how thin many Angelenos are, and realize I am not, in fact, a stick figure.
12:15 pm. We decide to lunch.
12:45 p.m. Fortified by lunch, a decision is made to visit a special exhibit being held at the museum. It features the work of Gerhardt Richter, a German artist I’ve actually heard of, because I read an article about him in the New York Times magazine five years ago and vaguely recall that maybe some of his paintings are copies of photographs. The twelve canvases he painted in 2005, a series of abstract pieces called “Wald,” are on display. They are pretty clearly not copies of photographs. He has obviously moved on from that period.
Am told by the very informative cards that are affixed to the wall next to the paintings that Richter’s paintings in this series are not abstract forests but evocations of the emotion of the forest. Do not see the difference and feel vaguely suspicious that I’m being had.
Still, decide it’s kind of cool that he gets an entire room in a museum devoted to the stuff he did in 2005, and wonder if he did these at a rate of one a month, or if he did them all at once and took the year off. It would be lovely to be an artist, I decide. In a room adjacent to the Wald display, Richter’s work is paired with that of another artist from Dresden. A German romantic whose name I cannot remember. Lots of landscapes. Solitary figures or trees and/or Christ in landscapes. Really complicated gold frames. Decide I do not like this brooding kind of painting. The only mood I experience is irritation. Perhaps it is because Los Angeles is not a brooding kind of place. For that you need fog, and other kinds of bad weather.
2:00-2:20 Make the mistake of wandering through more romantic paintings — weird sort of representational paintings of abstract things — spring, small children, odd portraits. Decide the Getty does not have a good collection of European art, although I don’t know anything about European art.
2:20 Try to find the photographs of Los Angeles exhibit, thinking this will be a great antidote to bad European art and instead end up in bric-a-brac collection, also known as French Rococo room. Do not like this room. Too many small objects. Seem to be in a bad mood.
2:30 Locate the special exhibit of French illuminated manuscripts. The room’s dark, the manuscripts incredibly bright after so many centuries. Am comforted and centered by words and pages, the impulse to make the written word beautiful. Why should a “Q” not be a work of art? Books are so fragile, yet here they are, something that connects us to the past, a past that’s really unimaginable. What was this world like, of monasteries that were centers of learning, where young men made things like this?
3:00 A short detour to look at weird still lives made out of silver by an 18th century French silver artist. Am taken with a platter that has boar’s heads for its handles. I do so like the French, despite the French rococo room.
3:15 Arrive in the gardens. Wish I’d spent the entire afternoon here. Wonderful, fun metal trellis things shaped like bouquets (except they’re about thirty feet high) on which bougainvilla is growing.
The gardens are young, but you can see what’s going to happen when the bougainvilla matures.
There are also bare plane trees that were obviously chosen because they’re so sculptural. A really weird labyrinth made out of azaleas. There’s no path to walk, just water. Think about the guy who has to put on hip boots, or better yet, get in his little inflated put-put boat, and wade out to the hedges to keep them trim.
The gardens are beautiful. The illuminated manuscripts make you think about what endures and what is timeless and how far away we are from the past, all of which are good things to contemplate on a lovely spring afternoon.
And so to Santa Monica for a pedicure.