Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Posts Tagged ‘J. Paul Getty Museum

The Spectacular Art of Jean-Leon Gérôme

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Getty Center

This spectacle is the first retrospective of Gérôme’s work in forty years, which means this is the first time a generation has been exposed to Gérôme like this.   The Getty’s reasons for the show are questionable since the Getty only has two works by Gérôme in its collection.  Whatever the reasons, this show is an amazing spectacle of oriental color and classical characters.  Gladiators, Vestal Virgins, residents of Pompeii, and even Caesar are all here.  This show might even have been appropriately displayed over at the Getty Villa in Malibu instead of the Center.

Look! Some naked women! It’s okay though cause they’re Greek, so we’re not objectifying them.

Other than a major retrospective of French academic painter, the show is an exploration of the gross commoditization of Orientalism in art, showcasing the hypocrisy of European society’s fascination with Eastern culture with its harems and bath houses.  Dialogues on race and culture whether intentional or not, are a major part of this show, from naked little boys to polychrome statues of naked (or is it nude) women.

I mean, come on…

The exhibition rooms are painted in an appropriate “oriental” palette, ruby maroons, and deep aquamarines are as decadent as some of the scenes in Gérôme’s paintings.  The only problem I had with the color scheme was in just one particular instance where The Snake Charmer (1870) was displayed on a aquamarine blue, the clash of the mosaic wall in the painting against the wall it hung on was visual agony.

Not painted from memory, painted from travel photos.

The exhibition runs the length of two large halls, at the end of the first hall in a small separated space of photographs from the Getty Research Institute’s library.  The selection of photographs are ones taken of the during Gérôme’s travels to the Middle East and the Orient.  Some of them directly relate to paintings in the exhibition, a photo of a tiled wall is the background in The Snake Charmer, another one shows the obvious inspiration for The Carpet Merchants (1887).  The Getty Research Institute has been doing a great job at displaying its special collection of photographs, both at the Getty and elsewhere.  There are some photos from the Getty’ collection in the current Eakins’s exhibition going on at LACMA (keep your eyes out for a post on that soon).

Just imagine this crazy thing in his livingroom!

Down the second hall, full of more classical and Eastern scenes, one comes to the last room of the exhibition, which Christopher Knight of the LA times has rightly pointed out as particularly interesting.  The room showcases Gérôme’s later transition to sculpture.  Gérôme’s fascination with the artistic power of sculpture can be seen in his painting of Pygmalion and Galatea (1890).  The myth serves as a theme for the room, which contains some of Gérôme’s sculptures. One of the sculptures is the awkwardly sticking polychrome Corinth (1903-04), from the collection of a certain J. Nicholson.

Distracting pun

The last work in the show is hung by itself: Gérôme’s non-high-art piece, the advertisement Opticien (1902).  The visual pun for “little dog,” in French “petit chien,” being devised here for commercial purposes.  This work, while highly enjoyable and a much needed relief from the much heavier preceding paintings, is problematic for me.  I don’t know how to resolve the fact that I think a retrospective should be a sincere display of the whole range of a single artist, but at the same time this work is soooo out there.  I might have approved of this work had it been snuck into the exhibition somewhere in the middle.  But as it stands at the very end of the exhibition, it draws too much attention to itself, and seems like an insincere inclusion when compared to the tone of the rest of the exhibition.

Museé de Orsay, you are EVERWHERE!

Other noteworthy remarks:  Where did all of these works come from? A major contributor of works was the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the Metropolitan loaned several works, some from personal collections (i.e. J. Nicholson), and of course work from the Museé de Orsay!  As mentioned in the posts about the de Young’s exhibition of works from the Museé de Orsay, congrats once again Museé for effectively getting your pieces out there on display during your construction!

– H.I.

The Tulip Folly (1882), how gay!

And a completely gratuitous additional painting, only because I have an obsession with tulips.

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Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture: Inspiration and Invention

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Getty Center

I know that this exhibition is already over, but I still think it is worth posting about because it had so many elements involved with the exhibition design.

Somebody save that baby!

The exhibition was located on the terrace level of the west pavilion of the Getty Center. I entered the space by walking down the stairway from the level above, which allowed me a great view of the behemoth horse by Nina Akamu.  The work was a wall mural of a photo of Il Cavallo, which stands in the Parco dell’Ippodromo in Milan.  The contemporary sculpture was inspired by the sketches of Da Vinci, for an unrealized equestrian monument designed for Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan.  This unrealized sculpture was a big focus of the show, and this photo adhered to the entry wall helped to cultivate the theme of monumentality in Renaissance sculpture. Even though there were few sculptures (and none by Da Vinci) in the show.  The Da Vinci work in this show is made up of sketches, many from the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

There were some very significant loan pieces, which is what the Getty does best; the reason to go see a show at the Getty is their ability to negotiate such loans.  (See for example French Bronzes, Bernini, or the display of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.) A major lender in to this exhibition was the Museo Del Opera Del Duomo in Florence.  The very Tuscan, sand-colored rooms of the exhibition are divided into several themes.

He’s been cleaned up since this picture was taken.

Donatello and Da Vinci: This room was a kind of prologue to the show.  One big room, with only one big work: Donatello’s Bearded Prophet.  The huge bronze statue was illuminated by a single window in an upper corner of room.  The starkness of the room highlighted the monumental borrowed work and allowed a visitor to circumvent the entire work, which you wouldn’t have been able to in its original setting—on the campanile of the Duomo.  The wall text explains how Donatello enlarged certain parts of the sculpture because of the perspective of it being seen on high: like the hands and the saint’s head.  This was a technique that was evidently adopted by Da Vinci.

Lots of sketches; thanks QE2!

Da Vinci and the Florentine Tradition: Because this show prominently featured works on loan I was not allowed to take any photographs, and the Getty has a very diligent and dedicated army of gallery guards who promptly tell you to put that camera away, this is why I have no images from this room.  Let me describe it instead:  the second room had an assemblage of pedestals with framed sketches set on top of them.  The Da Vinci sketches looked precariously set on top of the pedestals, as if they would topple over if you bumped into one, which seemed unavoidable in the crowded forest of pedestals.  Wall text contextualized Da Vinci into the Florentine tradition, with its emphasis on disegno—the “masculine style” which the Tuscans thought far superior to the feminine, Venetian style of colorito.

If only my handwriting were this nice, or this legible.

In between the room that focused on Da Vinci’s equestrian monuments and other projects, and the next was a corridor that could have been left empty and unremarkable.  But no, the Getty exhibition designers weren’t going to waste a perfectly good wall.  In this wall way, like beautiful antique wallpaper, was enlarged images of Da Vinci’s handwriting.  I asked a gallery guard permission and was given the okay to photograph.

and a painting…so where’s the sculpture

In the next room, which was almost tucked away, Da Vinci’s St. Jerome (on loan from the Vatican!) was displayed.  The unfinished panel painting was the first work by Da Vinci in the show that wasn’t a sketch, not a sculpture, but still not a sketch.  What this painting was doing in a show about sculpture was rationalized by the curators in that the figure of Jerome was painted in a very sculptural way…I might be oversimplifying, but that’s all the average visitor is going to understand anyway.

Gotcha!

The final rooms were devoted to Giovan Francesco Rustici, an artist I had never heard of before this exhibition.  Apparently he was friends and colleagues with Da Vinci.  Because there are very few confidently attributed Da Vinci sculptures, and those probably are never allowed to move, the Getty provides this analogue (aka replacement) for the lack of Da Vinci sculptures.  Once again there were a lot of loan works, the most glorious of which were the three Rustici sculptures that made up the sculptural group John the Baptist Preaching to a Pharisee and a Levite, also from the Museo Del Opera Del Duomo.

And a non-blurry version taken in the High Museum.

Again the large works (meant to be seen on the exterior of a public building) were given plenty of room to stretch their large bronze limbs, and basked in plenty of natural sunlight.  The natural light helped to contextualize the works in their original location.  The works were amazing, and would be on their own, even if you ignore the Da vinci-Rustici relationship so hyped in this exhibition.  It really undermined Rustici’s talent as an individual artist, but at the same time exposed me to Rustici for the first time.

The unavoidable gift shop, at the Getty they have their own chain.

After exiting the exhibition, myself and all the visitors were forced into the adjacent retail space.  Yes the Getty has a very large bookstore, but they also set up specialty boutique shops as it were for special exhibitions. It was like strategic planning in a mall, but I did almost buy a street banner from the exhibition.

– H.I.

Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire

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Getty Villa

It’s the first exhibition of neither Greek nor Roman art at the Getty Villa.  So why is there an exhibition of Aztec art on display next to rooms full or red-figure amphorae and marble portrait busts?—The Getty curators rationalize that when the Old World met the New World, European explorers rationalized the new civilizations they came in contact with by referencing what they already knew something about: the Greek and Roman civilizations.  Or as stated by the Getty:  “The premise of The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire is a unique one: that just as classical antiquity colored Spanish perceptions of Mesoamerica, the experience of Aztec civilization piqued curiosity about Renaissance Europe’s own ancient heritage”.  I’m not going to discuss whether I was convinced of this after seeing the show, but will discuss the display of this idea.

Traveled 1,589 miles, from Mexico City

There are mere weeks remaining to go see Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire at the Getty Villa, and if you are not planning on going to Mexico City anytime soon, I would suggest you go.  The artworks on display are on loan from the collections of the National Museum of Anthropology and the Templo Mayor Museum.  Monumental, multi-ton, stone sculptures and delicate votive figurines have traveled from Mexico to Los Angeles as a way to celebrate the bicentennial of the Mexican Revolution.

1-uped: Traveled 6,121 miles, from Florence

Another star attraction is the Florentine Codex, which has traveled even farther, from the Medici Library in Florence, Italy.  This is the first time the codex has been in the Americas since it was brought to Europe centuries ago.  These loans are displayed alongside objects from the Getty’s collection (mostly small figurines) as well as documents from the special collection of the Getty Research Institute.

The temporary exhibition space at the Getty Villa is an awkward space.  The row of adjacent, small-sized galleries combined with the large scale works on loan from Mexico could have been disastrous, but the exhibition designers and curators did a successful job stuffing the herd of Mexican elephants into these small rooms. (Click here to see what it took to display these elephants.)

Some elephants: Xochipilli & Cihuacoatl.

The exhibition space is also odd because of the hallway that links the rooms; it is architecturally unavoidable because it circumvents the inner peristyle garden of the Villa.  The wall title of the exhibition and several large-scale works were placed in this window-lined hallway and lure visitors into the rest of the exhibition.

The rooms were organized thematically: Tenochtitlan, First Encounters, The Florentine Codex, Parallel Pantheons, and Art and Empire.  This was predictable technique, but the content of the rooms was not.  Seeing Aztec objects displayed next to European objects, like a painted screen depicting the Spanish conquest, was a totally new and unprecedented exploration of history and art.

What a lovely piece of domestic furniture depicting the Spanish conquest!

Located in the center of the room, the looming terracotta Tzitzimitl (Demon) sculpture dominated the first space.  The surrounding walls had a variety of objects, maps, scrolls, and other documents.  This was simultaneously a display of masterpieces of Aztec art and also a subtle (and possibly unappreciated) display of the impressive collections of the Getty Research Institute.

No that’s not a flower coming out of his chest, it’s his liver.

At the end of the exhibition was my favorite room.  On one wall was a painted reproduction of sketch of the Templo Mayor.  It was a light element of the exhibition design that was sophisticated and smart.  In this room was another looming figure: the unavoidably menacing sculpture of a warrior in an eagle costume.  This theme of the Imperial Eagle (Imperial for both the Roman and Aztec civilizations) was continued by two other objects in the room.  A massive stone eagle from the Templo Mayor was placed literally face to face with a Bronze statue of an imperial Roman eagle.   This confrontation of cultures was direct and beautiful.

Eagle v. Eagle

As stated before, you should go see this exhibition because the works on loan are rarely seen outside of Mexico.  But you should also go see the exhibition because never again will you see these objects like this; in dialogue with objects from the Getty.  And finally you should go see this exhibition because contained in it is a brief peek into the extensive collection of the Getty Research Institute, which is a hushed but vital portion of this show.

Traveled 13.4 Miles, from the Getty Research Institute.

– H.I.