The Getty’s Own Boner
The Getty Center five and ten and more years on (cursory remarks)
Meier should never have been given this commission after his failure in Atlanta, it should have been obvious the man is a spectacular amateur, and a petulant one at that.
To the objection that his favorite color was denied him inside and out, it may be replied that Brentwood was wiser than the Getty Trust in eschewing the bone-white glare of an exterior that would certainly have stood out like a sore thumb in your eye, whereas the beige that was chosen is anyway discreet and not far from the color of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House not too far away.
Inside, Thierry Despont’s bad interiors fill broom closets stuffed with bric-à-brac (how fond we are of Despontism’s brief global reign, which caused every picture at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to be hung with a shadow across its top, and not just in Los Angeles—now the fashion has shifted to Rem Koolhaas and whatnot). Whistler still knows what he’s talking about, and the only good thing in Atlanta is the galleries, which are as wide and spacious and well-lit and humane as these are not, and that is the point: you go into the Getty’s ground-level galleries as into dark confessionals from the sunlit glare of essentially futile plaza constructions, of which they appear an afterthought.
“The North and East buildings evoke the qualities of light and openness that characterize both the Bauhaus movement of 1920s Europe and the Los Angeles buildings of early 20th-century architects Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Rudolph Schindler,” says the traitorous or pixilated brochure.
It remains to discuss Robert Irwin’s garden. Part of the effect depends on one’s appreciation of rusted steel, which is used extensively. You zigzag across a stream filled with rocks under a stand of trees down to a circular pool islanded by a hedge maze and surrounded by flower gardens. The effect is not visual like a Japanese garden, but rather experiential. It gives you the feeling of a walk through the woods, culminating in a symbol that will serve for a mystery (architect and artist battled over the view, rendered moot by inane developments like this).
It has been amply commented on, Meier’s failure to incorporate adequate facilities for the public. Add to this a relentless policy, the restaurants close early, leaving crowds to bake on the hot plaza. Flowers and water are seen as precious, even luxuries, under these circumstances.
With the sun setting, this overcrowded campus (which recalls and in some ways reflects UCLA’s recent overbuilding campaign) acquires shadows and throws them on the lawn. It acquires some depth. The six-inch squares of Travertine marble on the “Arrival Plaza” are each a picture. Nevertheless, the building seems so foolish that sundown means Blake’s guinea dropped, and in particular the entrance atrium seen from inside the museum compound is an alarming evocation of Felix the Cat’s latter-day nemesis Master Cylinder, King of the Moon.
University yahoos seem to enjoy this more than anyone, since the effect of tiles and marble is like a posh bathroom, and are wont to speak of an Acropolis, rather than a pile of crap. Harold M. Williams, former president and chief executive officer of the Trust (he has been replaced by a former Chancellor of the California State University), must have hoped for the best. John Walsh, the museum’s director emeritus, assembled a Bill Viola retrospective to grace it.
Meier’s bid to outdo I.M. Pei’s Louvre pyramid-power for architectural idiocy on the grand scale is now challenged by Frank O. Gehry at the same rate (I billion U.S.) in the Grand Avenue project.
But beyond the purple dahlias is a fine sculpture garden led by Leger’s Walking Flower and Calder’s Spiny Top, Curly Bottom with The Jousters like Irwin and Meier or Meier and Pei (the Professor and Poindexter, Gehry of course is The Master Cylinder), and George Rickey’s Three Squares Gyratory and Robert Adams’ Two (and elsewhere Magritte and Maillol and Hepworth, the finest thing Moore ever did and something even more monumental, and Noguchi and Miro and Frink and Turnbull), so that what the Getty has lost in the architecture game it has amply compensated (the Draped Reclining Mother and Baby dorsal view is a grand passage bar none, all of the sculptor’s work bears fruit on the obverse, the king of English sculptors has Bronze Form to prove it).