View from the Getty

“Three times and you are out the saying goes.” Not being very sports-minded, I apply the saying to life in general. In this case, I am referring to the J. Paul Getty Museum in downtown Los Angeles. Paul and I have visited the Getty 3 times now, twice in the downtown location and once in the Villa on the coast. It always rains. The Getty Galleries are noted for the artwork and special collections, exhibitions, startling multi-structure architecture and for the incredible views from the locations on the mountaintops.

Generally one associates mountaintop views with glorious vistas of the “oh look” variety; something we have missed because we have only visited in mist, rain, and heavy clouds. One thing you can count on during these visits, if it is raining, is that the facility is well stocked with umbrellas for visitor use. You pick one out of a bin as you exit a building and place it in another bin as you enter the next building.

What high hopes we had for this year’s visit. The sun had been shining and it stopped raining on the third day of our visit. No luck–as we drove to the Getty parking area with our daughter in law, Miriam, the mist settled in overhead and the rain began to fall. Such is life we decided and shrugged our shoulders.

The draw to the J. Paul Getty this year was a newly expanded photo gallery featuring two shows; Public Faces/Private Spaces; Recent Acquisitions showing work by 4 midcareer American photographers, Mary Ellen Mark, Anthony Hernandez, Donald Blumberg and Bill Owen. The second show is; Where we live, Photographs of America, from the Berman Collection. Both shows incorporate images from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

What a treat to see some familiar photographic works of that era; Mary Ellen Mark’s Street Wise Series photographing adolescents on the streets of Seattle and Bill Owen’s Suburbia. However, I was soon distracted by the voices of young people visiting the galleries on field trips with their teachers. The ages ranged from 5th grades to high school juniors and seniors. I confess that being a teacher and having taken my students to many fine exhibits in Rochester, I couldn’t help but hold back a little to hear comments and reactions by some of the students.

They teased and cajoled each other, they needed occasional reminders by their teachers to quiet down or simmer down, but mostly they were thoughtful and engaged, open and curious. They followed the teachers’ ideas about certain photographs and asked pointed questions. One young man asked how a photographer would come up with an idea to shoot as a series. Another student asked if people in the pictures knew that their photo would be shown in a gallery like the J. Paul Getty?

One might say, the sun was shining indoors in the guise of these young people trying something new, but it still did not shine outside, as we exited the museum that day. We waited with some of the students to board the tram to the parking lot. They were active and noisy but I overheard one student say, “I’d like to bring my mom here. I know she’d like it a lot.” That adds up to success and stood out as a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy day in LA.