The Fissure between Artist & Architect: A Trip to The Getty Center

I was in LA a couple weekends ago for my housemate’s brother’s 30th birthday. I say that as if my housemate isn’t my best friend from college, and her brother isn’t like my adoptive brother, but I have to keep some element of oddity in tact when talking about the city of Angels—up until this most recent trip, I’ve considered and summed it up as nothing more than “post-apocalyptic.” Friday evening ushered in bottle service at a place called The Abbey in West Hollywood, and I can’t say much else about that.

A slow start to Saturday morning landed us at ideal brunch location #2 before we headed to The Getty, already needing to push back our dinner reservations if we were to take in the full splendor of the campus housing one of the world’s largest arts organizations. I’ll start by saying, I don’t believe bigger is better, I never have. I don’t think because a song has been listened to by millions of people millions of times that it’s a good song. But man, is the architecture on their campus something to truly behold. Sharp lines of bright bricks cut the hills across a skyline that could easily be taken for granted.

The Getty Center | Los Angeles, California | June 2018

I prefer to explore alone in public places—the most unbelievable things tend to happen to me, and I won’t subject any unsuspecting souls to whatever that may be, especially not in a place so big with so many people and possibilities for shenanigans. I was walking into traffic throughout the Central Garden when I overheard who I assume was a tour docent say “fissure.” The only other time I’d heard that word was in reference to something medical, so my ears perked up at the out-of-place word, and I stopped to listen.

Her topdown scan was classic for a retiree volunteering her spare time to tell tourists about goings on at the museum: a wide-brim sunhat and bright orange Choco’s tied together by a canvas fanny pack. I only had a brief moment to ponder, “am I staring into my future,” before she iterated her own inquiry to the group, asking how they thought the architect and artist were able to create spatial coherence when their two experiential concepts were at odds…

From inside the Central Garden | The Getty Center | Los Angeles, California | June 2018

How anyone can focus on taking in any exhibits or draw themselves indoors to do so when the architectural landscape of the Getty is so enrapturing is truly beyond me. Perhaps artist Robert Irwin had this in mind when designing his garden installation to be a completely enveloping experience, focusing on aspects like sound and texture versus conventional visual appeal. This wouldn’t be an even remotely wild assumption—Irwin is known for experimenting with environment and exploring perception as the primary issue of art.

As if unique design elements, beautiful gardens and open spaces aren’t enough, Getty architects (the lead of which will remain nameless amidst sexual harassment claims) have established an immense sense of place with several wide-angle look-out points, providing a smoggy yet spectacular view of Los Angeles. To lose any of this view, they felt, was to lose an essential, balancing aspect of the intricate ecosystem. It’s no wonder that an outdoor exhibit, eating at the horizon aimed at total immersion could threaten the desired experience the architects imagined for guests.

View of Central Garden & pan of the Getty Center | Los Angeles, California | June 2018

I took these photos before I was brought into this larger discussion, but I don’t think they do a terrible job of hitting on the comprehensive dynamics between “a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art” and the architectural giant housing it. Standing in the garden amidst hypnotic ambience, one can glance up and take in several striking structural elements unseen before the sculpture’s motley coronation. The satisfaction of this realization was an experience all its own, and I had to question if this were intentional or if the intellectual abyss between great minds naturally facilitates such profound discovery.

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