Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Getty Center in summertime: Van Gogh, Degas and iced coffee

After just an hour bus ride to the Getty Center, Dad and I arrived as it opened, and jumped on what is possibly the slowest tram in the world up the hill. We had plenty of time to peer into the backyards of Bel Air, wonder about what looks like a backyard vineyard and the world's largest deck before we disembarked and began our day of art.

We split up, having learned at LACMA that our tastes differ considerably, but after I ditched the first tour (a summary of the Getty's collection and current exhibitions led by a teacher who talked a bit too much like he was addressing a group of 2nd graders) my dad and I met up at the exhibition "Capturing Nature's Beauty: Three Centuries of French Landscapes." As a landscape painter, Dad had looked forward to this all week, and it did not disappoint. One of my favorites was "Landscape with the Château Gaillard."

Jean-Jacques Boissieum France, 1796, pen with black and gray inks, brush and gray wash, heightened with gouache and watercolor.

The card explained that "a trip to Italy inspired his practice of illuminating his compositions with bright sunlight." Having grown up in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, under the same kind of constant cloud cover that I've heard Parisians experience, I can only imagine that the sunny side of Italy was extremely inspiring. A little like how I feel about California, though I'd move to Italy in a heartbeat.

And another, "Shepherdess and Her Flock."

Jean-François Millet, French, Barbizon, 1862 - 1863, black chalk and pastel.

And "Landscape with a Bare Tree and a Plowman."

Léon Bonvin, French, 1864, pen and brown ink, watercolor, and gum arabic.

Moving away from that exhibition, I came across the sculpture, "The Vexed Man," which I loved at first sight.

"The Vexed Man is one of a series of 69 portrait busts or "character heads" made by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, an eighteenth-century German sculptor active in Austria. Messerschmidt sculpted them during the last thirteen years of his life, while apparently suffering from mental illness."

Speaking of mental illness (and I don't say that lightly, the subject of artists and depression is near to my heart and fascinates me - I recommend the book "Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression") the next painting that stopped me in my tracks was Van Gogh's "Irises."

I am so accustomed to seeing Van Gogh's work, on post cards, posters and in Hallmark stores, that I didn't expect to be overwhelmed by his work. But standing before an original is a much different experience. It seemed everyone thought so -- the room was crowded and people lingered in front of Irises for a long time.

The description detailed that Van Gogh painted Irises "in the garden of the asylum of Saint-Rémy, where he was recuperating from a severe attack of mental illness. ... Its energy and theme -- the regenerative powers of the earth -- express the artist's deeply held personal belief in the divinity of art and nature."

I found myself absorbed in "The Milliners" by Edgar Degas, about 1882.

Degas "rethought and repainted over the course of twenty-five years. ... Degas's process here was to continually reduce anecdotal details down to the looming hat stands and vibrant ribbons."

From the Getty site: "Discoveries made upon x-ray examination of this painting reveal that the milliner on the left originally wore a hat, had ruffles at her wrists, and wore a scarf around her neck—details indicating that the artist initially conceived of her as a customer. Degas's reworking of the picture and altering of the identity of the figure from bourgeoise to laborer reveals his process and his characteristically modern commitment to portraying the working class. Degas's compositional choices—the dramatically angled worktable, the looming hat stands, and the vibrant ribbons—underscore the painting's remarkable modernity."

I had my hopes up for the photography exhibit, "In Focus: Making a Scene," but was disappointed by the one-room exhibition, and didn't stay long. After a salad of fresh veggies, sundried tomatoes and olives for lunch, I found dad in the garden, sitting and sketching beneath the bougainvillea (climbing up sculpted stands of rebar).

Later we headed back up to the main level for an iced coffee, to read and people watch.

1 comment:

glutton4punishment said...

Great wrap-up. I was underwhelmed by the Getty the couple times I ventured there, but I clearly wasn't looking hard enough.