Woody Internship at the Getty: Week 3

Forays into Museum Exhibitions

This week started off with a bang–the exhibition opening of Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Theodore Rousseau. Rousseau was a prominent artist of the Barbizon School, which arose out of the Romantic movement in the mid-19th century, who painted, as one can guess, landscapes.

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One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit

The opening consisted of a staff preview, press preview and dinner reception. I got in at noon to help Danielle checking on the set up for the reception in the Main Entrance Hall and create signs for the check-in table and various other locations. The exhibition was open for staff members in the afternoon, and I took the opportunity to walk through in relative solitude. Rousseau’s paintings contain a beautiful melancholy in them, and I found his ability to capture atmosphere, particularly at dusk, the most impressive aspect of his work. His depictions of deep forests and grand oaks had a Grimm’s fairytale quality to them, that I also loved. After the press preview we got ready for guests to arrive for the main reception. Guests included certain Getty employees, Trust and Board members and other “important people in the art world.” I helped check in guests along with VSAs. After most of the guests had arrived, I had some time to mingle and head back over to the galleries with Tony, where we had a fun time discussing different pieces and chatting with various “Getty people” we ran into.

The next two days I worked with Shannon on two external events, which were fairly similar. AMDA and FAPE came onsite for a luncheon and tours of some of our exhibits with their respective curators. While the actual “event” part of the program was rather standard–greeting and escorting guests–what was really interesting for me was the opportunity to piggyback on the tours provided by the curators and get a fascinating glimpse into the conceptions behind the exhibitions. The first day I accompanied a group from the Art Museum Development Association who went through a tour of the Dunhuang Caves. Despite having been here for over a month, I still hadn’t seen this part of the exhibit, but I’d say it was well worth the wait. There are three replica caves housed in a large pavilion on the arrival plaza that contain beautiful recreations of the wall paintings, sculptures and statues of the actual Dunhuang Caves. I was able to ask one of the curators, Julia Grimes, about how they came up with the three-part exhibition–the caves, 3-D Immersive video and traditional gallery–and she explained that the curators really wanted to bring to life the experience of entering these caves since the actual caves are deep in the desert and tourism is limited in order to control humidity levels.

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Interior of one of the caves

The next day a group from the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies arrived to tour both the Dunhuang Caves and the Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium Exhibition. Mapplethorpe was a photographer who worked in the later half of the 20th century, depicting male and female nudes, celebrity portraits, still-lifes, and most controversially, the underground BDSM scene of New York in the late 60s and early 70s. The curator, Paul Martineau, led us through the exhibit, discussing the life and art of Mapplethorpe and the design of the exhibit. It’s not necessary to elaborate upon the details of what Martineau’s decisions were, they wouldn’t mean much unless one was actually viewing the exhibit, but suffice it to say that Martineau’s decisions were deeply thoughtful and showcased the power that the design of an exhibit can have, what kind of story is told through the positioning of each art piece. One example that particularly highlights this is the decision Martineau made in where he placed the X Portfolio–his collection of BDSM photographs. He consciously decided not to showcase the X Portfolio at the start of the exhibit for shock value, but instead, placed it at the very end in a discreet waist-high case. In doing so, the viewer approaches this portfolio having gained an understanding of Mapplethorpe’s artistry and vision that can be applied to these final images. Moreover, placing them in a case requires the viewer to consciously decide to look at them, or avoid them, rather than seeing them by chance.

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One of Mapplethorpe’s most famous self-portraits

I rounded out the week by setting up for, and listening to, a lecture on the development of the Theodore Rousseau exhibition by one of its curators, Scott Allen. It was very interesting to hear about the “thesis” he wanted to put forth about this artist and how he chose the paintings for the exhibit, which ranged from the purely aesthetic and artistic reasons–which paintings best supported his thesis–to the more practical–which museums would loan him items and whether they fit into his budget. This week has been exciting to get a glimpse behind the galleries and exhibits and into the minds of the people who create and curate them. Curating was what got me interested in museums in the first place, and could be a potential career path for me, so I was glad to get more of an understanding of how our current exhibitions were developed.