The Getty Museum, Los Angeles– “a work of art with a museum inside”

20130716-223355.jpgWhen I think of art museums, I think of urban spaces. In my experience, most large cities ensconce their major museums within the city landscape itself.  And often times, the buildings themselves are as impressive as the art they house: the majesty of the Louvre, the edgy hipness of the MOMA, the serenity of the capital’s Hirschhorn, the classical grandeur of Philadelphia’s Museum of Art, the modernity of the Tate. Yet, again, each is an urban creation, set upon city streets.

The Getty Center of Los Angeles, however, is something wonderfully different. To get there one must drive–as one always must in Los Angeles–along some congested stretch of highway ( the 405) and pull into a car park. From there you take a tram car 900 feet up a mountain and when you disembark at the mountaintop, you feel you have arrived on Olympus itself.

A sculpture "running" next to the tram car

A sculpture “running” next to the tram car

The museum is open-aired. As you move from wing to wing, from gallery to gallery, you walk into the California sunlight–the San Bernadino and San Gabriel Mountains stretching out to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the blue sky all around you. The buildings are constructed in beautiful white block with striated stone quarried in Israel and Italy that mutates in color from brown to gold to sandstone in the changing light. Large panels of glass and open-air passageways further blur the distinction between outside and in. As one museum docent said, “People come here with the idea that they’re going to a museum with works of art on the inside, but they’re really visiting a work of art with a museum inside.”

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“Air” by Aristide Maillol

Sculptures both modern and contemporary are scattered throughout the grounds, so as you move from a special exhibition on Renaissance gardens to the Getty’s renowned permanent photography collection you must walk past Giocometti and Magritte and Henry Moore as well as Barbara Hepworth, Aristide Maillol and Charles Day.

Boy with a Frog, by Alexander Day

“Boy with a Frog” by Charles Day

Torso of a woman by Rene Magritte

“Delusions of Grandeur” by Rene Magritte

The holdings –and the special exhibits–that the Getty museum houses are world-class and extraordinary. From Van Gogh’s Irises to Mapplethorpe’s photos, from Titian to Rembrandt to Monet, the Getty is a magnificent collection.

But I could spend the entire day there and never walk inside.

by the way…

In case I didn’t say, there is also extraordinary art inside:

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“Specimen (after Durer)” by John Baldessari

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Do What You Love: The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show

David D’Imperio’s sculptured lighting

On Friday past, I went to the Philadelphia Art Museum’s annual Craft Show.  Now this isn’t your usual craft show with knitted tea cozies, outré Christmas decorations, and cute tchotchkes for the home. This is major art.  The exhibitors were potters and metal workers, fabric artists and glass blowers, painters, fashion designers and jewelers, woodworkers and stone carvers. This was some major stuff–and more often than not far above my price range.

Yet it was all beautiful.  At one point, I called over one of the women I was with to see these magnificent glass platters. The artist corrected me: what I thought was glass was actually wood. All his pieces were wood.  Yet they were so translucent and brilliant and delicate that one would never first believe that they were wood.

Mark Schuler’s wooden bowl.

Two fashion designers–at opposite ends of the “elegance” scale–were both kicky and inventive. Their dresses and capes and skirts and pants were flowing with ruched materials or angular draping. One woman painted gorgeous canvasses, part abstract/part folk art, and treated them so they could be use as floor coverings. Runners for hallways, area mats for large rooms. They were exquisite. 

There was exquisite furniture and graceful pots, jewelry both elegant and extreme. There was a perpetual motion glass wine aerator and eyeglasses made of wood. There were graceful ceramics and fun metal sculptures. There was simply aisle after aisle in the cavernous Convention Center filled with magnificent works of human artistry. 

And that was the true beauty of this collection. Hundreds of people from around the world were simply doing what they loved–creating things of beauty.  How lucky one must be to be able to do what he or she loves as not their job but as their vocation, to be able to start the day with nothing and end up with something. For the artist does not go to work, he is always at work. He eats and sleeps and breathes his work.  And while not all of these crafts were to my taste–though many, many were–all were to my liking. For something inside me loves the idea that human beings are a species that does create, and often creates piece not for their utility but for their simple and utter beauty.