A Trip to the Museum

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.

Getty Center image12:00 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.

Wald (892-3) / RichterAm 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.

Adoration of the Magi / Unknown2:30 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.

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12 thoughts on “A Trip to the Museum

  1. I’m originally from Los Angeles and before my parents moved away from there we’d visit every couple of years or so. My mother kept saying that we “had” to see the Getty but I was less than enthused and kept finding a way to skip it. Last visit we finally went and I am so glad we did; it was one of the most memorable vacation experiences I have ever had.

    That last paragraph (er, the one not about a pedicure) summed it up for me. I remember taking a picture of my daughter in front of a thousands-of-years-old statue of Venus and it gives me goosebumps every time I reflect on that. And even a simple floor tile mesmerized me, thinking of the people who had walked on it all those years ago. I hardly think my kitchen laminate will be hung in some museum 2000 years from now. 😉

  2. What a fabulous trip!! I didn’t get a chance to view the illuminated manuscripts at our local museum the last time I was there and your post makes me want to go there again soon.

  3. Nice architecture! And, er, why would you need a system for a museum? I always plunge in and see what I can discover, of course accepting the help of signs and plans. That will usually do the trick. And one day when you come back you can see the rest.

    That last line reminds me of Samuel Pepys, by the way.

  4. Hello Diana, I didn’t know you were from LA. The fact that the world is full of objects that last longer than their owners has — just recently — become something I think about all the time.

    TBM — Thank you. I’ll be your virtual tourguide any old time.

    Heather, I have a feeling a lot of book people love illuminated manuscripts. They’re so beautiful. It turns out, by the way, that the monks who made those manuscripts also created stainglass windows, similarly color-saturated works of art.

    Edwin — It is nice architcture. As for systems, I am Just That Way. Samuel Pepys would have liked the pedicured foot, lusty fellow that he was.

  5. Ah, Bloglily! I feel as if I have been to two museums today: the Art Institute of Chicago in person, and the Getty via your wonderful descriptive tour. I don’t think that I could describe my tour to AIC as well as you have described the Getty, but I am working on a poem inspired by a series of lithographs displayed as part of the Vollard exhibit I visited. Maybe I’ll get in posted on my site in a few days. I tried to jot down some ideas while in the exhibit, but pens weren’t allowed. I guess that makes sense, but trying to jot an inspired poem into one’s blackberry is a real pain in the neck!

    Ambroise Vollard, art dealer to many avant guarde artists, commissioned several illustrated texts. Some were on display, but I wished that I could see all of the pages. Can you imagine having a book with sketches in the margin by Picasso? How cool would that be? I think you’re right about book lovers wanted to make the written word more beautiful on the page.

    I love how the Getty’s web site describes the intent of the garden design is to give the visitor an experience in ‘sights, sounds, and scents’. Isn’t that the way every garden should be? Made me think of some of the wonderful gardens I have visited. I’m eager for Spring!

    Thanks for a wonderful virtual visit to the Getty on a beautiful Spring day.

  6. Dear Lily–Great to see you back at it. Becoming a museum reviewer, I see. Nicely done. Another hobby/category? Right up there with recipes from the Midwest? I had never thought of having a system for taking in a museum, but it made me think. I guess my first rule for museums is only to go to one if there is something I want to see. My second rule is to make sure that anyone with me wants to see the same thing. A nice cafe is also a plus. Also, don’t get trapped after hours so you have to stay all night. Almost did that in the Louvre. SF often has some great museum exhibits. Are you going to review any of those?

  7. Even if you are not always on holiday, your latest couple of posts are giving that impression and I’m happy for you! I enjoyed the last post about the not-Starbucks and this one too. I agree with you about museums – I tend to do them pretty fast and without a system, stopping when I’m grabbed and moving on when I’m not, otherwise I get sensory overload. I think the manuscripts would have stopped me too – I have a thing for illuminations and calligraphy.

  8. Bloblily– dont you know youre supposed to be impressed by all and never crabby in a museum ? just kidding of course. What I love about many of your posts is their absolute honesty and reverant irreverance as you move through what works and what doesnt to feed you. thanks. thanks. Rodin sometime? Stanford and/or Legion of honor.

    Pedicure! what color?

  9. What wonderful weekends you are having, BL! I loved the description of this – I always get headachy and tetchy halfway around museums. Why is that? Beauty overload? The weight of past culture pressing down? The lighting? But it sounds like there are many wonderful exhibits to see here. I’d have liked to come for the pedicure, too.

  10. Thanks for taking us along on your trip to the Getty !

    (although if you wish you’d “spent the entire afternoon in the garden” — I’m not sure that’s a very high recommendation for the other exhibits)

    But beautiful gardens on sunny days (especially with beautiful young people scattered about) are definitely very tough competition for any collection of old or strange artifacts.

    Please bring us along the next time you and your friends fly off to a museum.

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