An introductory essay
by Bill Lasarow
(The Getty Center, West Side) Pinch us, I think we're dreaming. After nearly fourteen years of planning, preparation and construction, Los Angeles is about to become home of a museum for the world. And much more than a museum. The Getty Center opens with lucky sevens--seven distinct areas comprise the new campus, which houses seven important departments (see companion article, below).
Any other museum's director has to court financial support. But Museum Director John Walsh's unique problem is that he has to apply the brakes on the way the endowment provided by Mr. Getty, the tightwad oil billionaire, is spent so as to leave the world art market unscarred and unresentful. The Getty Trust is required to spend a minimum of well over $200 million annually by Federal non-profit law.
No doubt the intellectual long knives will come out over the holiday season of '97 in order to skewer the product of such bloated wealth. But let there be no mistake: The Center's opening is a Defining Moment.
The former cultural desert of the 1950s has already been called "unworthy" to house Getty On The Hill in a recent New Yorker article. A recent L.A. Times feature made the point that popular entertainment is the Power Player in this town, but that little of it's green rubs off on high art.
One guy can't change this alone. Just ask Lorenzo di Medici.
What the wealth of one can do is lend a needed boost to already existing talent. It's easy to argue that L.A. already has come to house a substantial critical mass of talent. That's been true for years. The bigger question over the course of the last decade has been whether L.A. has the audiences and support systems in place to nurture it properly --it clearly does not. Not that the Getty Center suddenly and decisively evaporates the shortfalls, far from it.
What it does provide is a focal point. Sure, we have LACMA, the Norton Simon, MOCA and a host of good regional museums. But none of these can begin to carry and sustain the weight of influence that comes from the recession-proof Getty, which can and will reach into the lives of young people, and not just here in SoCal. No, it's not like this place is going to employ legions of working artists, thus freeing them to make more art. And, outside of several new commissioned works, contemporary art is simply not part of what this Museum's aquisition program. Indeed, the Modernist revolution of the 20th Century can barely be detected in this collection.
And what kind to exhibitions will be installed in the Temporary Exhibi- tion Galleries? The opening shows are indicative. Beyond Beauty: Antiquities as Evidence brings a selection of the familiar Greek and Roman-era artifacts into the orbit of ancient Indian, Peruvian and Chinese masterworks loaned from several sister museums. This show seeks to move your attention past the intrinsic attractiveness of the objects selected in favor of their cultural meaning. Then there is the requisite review of the architectural tale leading up to the Parthenon you are visiting, as featured in Making Architecture: The Getty Center from Concept through Construction. Out among the other pavilions are scattered the Manuscripts Gallery, presenting a selected survey of illuminated manuscripts from all over Europe dating from the 10th- to the 16th-Centuries; the Drawings Gallery, which offers a review of the highlights among the Getty's aquisitions of the last 15 years; and the Photographs Gallery, in which Time Not In Motion: A Celebration of Photographs presents images that convey time as an integral part--if not the most visible part--of the visual content. There is nothing exactly new and hip in sight. But that's beside the point.
The journey from the Malibu Ranch House (see Merle Schipper's article immediately following) to the new urban metaphor of the new millenium (see John O'Brien's subsequent essay) carries us to a City on the Hill that will continually, if politely, challenge us to unearth what in best in ourselves.