J. Paul Getty Museum
photo, ©1999 John Hazeltine
Departures: 11 Artists at the Getty
The J. Paul Getty Museum is presenting a major contemporary art exhibition of commissioned works in a variety of media by 11 outstanding Los Angeles-area artists responding to the Getty's collections. Organized by guest curator Lisa Lyons, Departures: 11 Artists at the Getty opens February 29 and continues through May 7, 2000 at the Getty Museum.
Spanning a broad emotional and stylistic spectrum, the artists' projects challenge and expand our ideas about art--both of the past and of the present. The exhibition is a "departure" from the past history of the Getty in that American art, other than photography, has seldom been featured at the msueum.
Participating artists are John Baldessari, Uta Barth, Sharon Ellis, Judy Fiskin, Martin Kersels, John M. Miller, Rubén Ortiz Torres, Lari Pittman, Stephen Prina, Alison Saar, and Adrian Saxe. A special section of the exhibition is devoted to portraits of the Departures artists by Los Angeles-based photographer Grant Mudford. Selected works that served as starting points for some of the Departures artists are included in the exhibition as well.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Getty is publishing an illustrated, 64-page, soft-cover catalogue, with a foreword by Getty museum director John Walsh, an introduction and essays by Lisa Lyons on each artist's work, and photographs of the artists by Grant Mudford. The catalogue is available in the Getty Museum bookstore. A Guide to Getty Points of Departure, a free handout available at the entrance to the exhibition, directs visitors to works in the Getty collections that served as starting points for the contemporary works. The guide also lists events related to the exhibition including artist lectures, gallery talks, film screenings, and performances.
Discussing the exhibition, John Walsh, director of the Getty Museum, commented, "For two centuries, museums have been a challenge to artists and sometimes an inspiration. The Getty's galleries have been a place to learn, translate, react, and protest. It seems a good idea to start the new millennium with an invitation for experiments. We hope the show will help build our relationship with Los Angeles artists."
Exhibition guest curator Lisa Lyons said, "Departures explores the potent and sometimes surprising ways in which the art of the past can inform contemporary art. Equally important, the new works produced for the exhibition offer valuable insights into the Getty collections."
Lisa Lyons has been a consultant to the Getty since 1996. Previously, she was a curator at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and director of Art Programs at Lannan Foundation in Los Angeles. At the Getty Center, she has overseen the commissioning of major works of art for key public spaces, including: Edward Ruscha's painting, PICTURE WITHOUT WORDS, for the lobby of the Harold M. Williams Auditorium; Alexis Smith's Taste, a mixed-media wall work for the Restaurant at the Getty Center; and Martin Puryear's That Profile, a monumental sculpture for the Getty Center Tram Arrival Plaza. In concert with the Smith and Puryear commissions, Lyons curated exhibitions for the Getty Museum that provided visitors with an introduction to the artists' works.
Projects Commissioned for the Exhibition
Following are brief descriptions of the 11 projects commissioned for the exhibition.
Baldessari selected Albrecht Dürer's diminutive drawing, Stag Beetle (1505), as the starting point for his project. Working from a transparency of the 5 9/16 x 4 inch drawing, Baldessari created a 172 x 138 inch, ink-jet enlargement of the image on canvas. Specimen (After Dürer) is mounted to the wall with a gigantic metal T-pin. Stabbed through the back of the stag beetle, the pin appears to have put an end to the critter's trek across the paper.
Barth is represented by a group of framed color photographs (three diptychs and one triptych) from ... and of time, a series of more than 1,000 photographs that the artist made of her sparsely furnished living room. Focusing on issues of perception and what Barth calls "ambient vision," these carefully cropped images suggest her affinity for works at the Getty Center by contemporary artist Robert Irwin (Central Garden, 1997) and Impressionist painter Claude Monet (Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning, 1891). Copies of the 32-page soft-cover book with 20 color reproductions that serves as an index to Barth's project are on view in the exhibition and are available for purchase in the Museum Bookstore.
Ellis' 4 x 5 foot painting, A Vision of Spring in Winter, portrays a landscape rendered with the intensity of a vision seen in a dream or hallucination. In creating this work, the artist drew inspiration from several works in the Getty collection, including a photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot (Oak Tree in Winter, 1841) and paintings by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Spring, 1894) and Caspar David Friedrich (A Walk at Dusk, 1830-35). Ellis's own photographs of flowers in Robert Irwin's Central Garden also served as a source of imagery. The painting's title derives from a poem by the late-Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Judy Fiskin's witty, 16-minute video, My Getty Center, is an elegantly constructed pseudo-documentary about the harmonic convergence of what the artist refers to as "two cataclysmic events" that occurred in 1997: the opening of the Getty Center and the arrival of El Niño. Narrated by Fiskin, the video's story line unfolds in sequences of original footage interwoven with material appropriated from broadcast TV, old movie-house newsreels, low-budget documentaries, and other sources.
Kersels selected the Getty Kouros (young man), among the Museum's most controversial acquisitions, as his point of departure. After more than 15 years of study, scholars are still uncertain if the sculpture is a Greek antiquity or a modern forgery. Pondering the sculpture's authenticity and its beauty, Kersels produced Kouros and me, a series of four large-scale, color photographs. The pictures, taken by Kersels' wife Mary Collins, show the artist and a copy of the Getty Kouros (carved from foam) flying through the air or about to be launched there with the aid of a trampoline just out of camera range. With this project, Kersels gives new meaning to "wrestling with history."
John M. Miller
Miller chose as his departure point a diptych by the 15th-century painter Jean Fouquet from the Hours of Simon de Varie (1455), a prayer book made for an official at the French royal court. In response to the image of de Varie kneeling before the Madonna and Child, Miller created three large-scale, abstract paintings: Prophecy, Sanctum, and Atonement. As their titles suggest, and like the manuscript illumination that inspired them, Miller's paintings invite you to turn your attention inward and to participate in what the artist calls "a moment in flux."
Rubén Ortiz Torres
A box of 91 stereographic cards in the Getty Research Institute's collection that show views of Cuba during the Spanish-American war (1899) allowed Ortiz to "rethink history on many levels." The images of Cuba played into his fascination with the island's geopolitical significance, and they struck a more personal chord. In the 1960s, Ortiz's father composed La Zamba del Che, a popular anthem to Che Guevara, the socialist revolutionary and comrade-in-arms of Cuba's Fidel Castro. Ortiz's project, La Zamba del Chevy, consists of a customized 1960 Chevrolet Impala-the same model driven by Guevara--and a five-minute, 3-D video. The lowrider is parked in the Museum courtyard and, thanks to a sophisticated hydraulic system, it can "dance." The car performs in the 3-D video that screens continuously in the exhibition. The soundtrack for the video is a techno version of the elder Ortiz's anthem to Che, produced by a Uruguayan rock group.
Pittman's 26 foot-long painting, Indebted to you, I will have had understood the power of the wand over the scepter, reflects his affinity for Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889 (1888). Pittman views James Ensor's masterpiece "not as a painting, but as a tableau." Its rush of images can engulf the viewer, and Pittman notes, "one can get lost in the delirium of its abstraction." Much the same can be said of Pittman's own painting, with its vivid colors and dizzying array of decorative patterns and images spanning five mahogany panels. Immense portraits of five men and vessels issuing flames set up the basis for an enigmatic narrative suggesting a cycle of human desire and passion.
Prina's Vinyl II is a 21-minute, 16-mm film shot in the Getty galleries. Featuring an original score and a performance by the artist, the film focuses on the relationship between works in the Getty collection by two artists known for dramatically illuminated night scenes: Georges de La Tour (The Musicians' Brawl, 1625-30) and Gerrit van Honthorst (Christ Crowned with Thorns, circa 1620). Unless otherwise noted, Vinyl II screens in the Museum Lecture Hall, Tuesdays--Sundays at 12:30, 2:30, and 4:30 p.m. Additional screenings are on Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. A related wall work and Prina's hand-inked score for the film are on view in the exhibition galleries.
Carved of wood, clad in a skin of hammered copper, and with dreadlocks of twisted branches of bleached white coral, Saar's Afro-di(e)ty is reminiscent of both African fetish figures and the creations of urban American folk artists. The pose of the towering female figure is borrowed from the Getty's Hercules (Lansdowne Herakles), while many of her other attributes refer to Yemaya, the primary goddess of the Yoruba people of Africa.
High art collides with popular culture in Adrian Saxe's
1-900-ZEITGEIST, an outrageously ornate and comical variation on a classic
French garniture, a set of related vessels. Saxe produced the porcelains
for a table and a pair of torchères (candlestands) in the Getty's
collection of 18th-century decorative arts. Five pieces on a stoneware base
grace the table; another two stand atop the torchères. Their curvaceous
relief elements derive from patterns on ancient Chinese bronzes and pots,
and their shapes suggest those of Chinese scholar's rocks, beautiful stones
used as tabletop objects of contemplation. Their leafy handles are based
on French Rococo designs, while their wacky finials are made from toy action
figures. Hidden in the vessels' intricate surface patterns are a portrait
of Saxe and images of several animals including a hippopotamus, a donkey,
a school of fish, a bear, and a butterfly.
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