Art Treasures, Yours for the Asking

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Every parent knows how important it is to hang bright, colorful mobile toys above the baby's crib to stimulate their child's growing brain. But is there a perfect toy for us, adults, to stimulate our presumably developed brain? My answer to this question is an unequivocal YES!

How about art museums as the ultimate toys for our eyes and brains? Where else can you find so many priceless art treasures, which are yours for the asking?


Frances Terpak, Curator of the Getty Research Institute,
sharing art treasures from the collection of the GRI

During the Mother's Day weekend I went with a bunch of adventurous art lovers to the Getty Center, to give our brains a generous dose of visual stimulation. As a rule, museums put on display only the best, only the crème de la crème of their collections, which counts for roughly five percent of everything that they have in storage. But what about the other 95 percent? Is there any way to have a look behind the closely guarded doors of a museum's storage facilities and archives? Does one have to be a student or a scholar to get that privileged peek at a museum's hidden treasures?

Fortunately not. Anyone curious enough about the Getty's holdings of Medieval manuscripts and Renaissance drawings, rare prints and photographs can request an appointment to view them. And that's exactly what I arranged for my group of art aficionados this past weekend.


(L) Inside the Getty Research Institute
(R) Hand painted book by Anselm Kiefer

I asked Frances Terpak, one of the curators at the Getty Research Institute (GRI) "Can you show us some highlights of your various collections?" And oh boy, I wish you had been there to see what she and her three assistants spread out for us and to hear the fascinating stories that she told.

Artworks from the Robert Mapplethorpe archive


We marveled at centuries old exquisite art toys meant for wealthy connoisseurs. We had a chance to flip through an album of drawings by Anselm Kiefer, one of the best known contemporary German artists. And then there was a pair of men's underwear smartly stretched over a wooden picture frame, which turned out to be a tongue-in-cheek artistic response by Robert Mapplethorpe to the symbolic bra burning of feminists in the 1970's. You may have heard that last year the Getty and LACMA jointly acquired Mapplethorpe's vast archive, including thousands upon thousands of his photographs and negatives.

Judith Keller, Senior Curator of Photography at the Getty Museum,
discussing photos by Robert Mapplethorpe in the museum's study room


From the Getty Research Institute, we went to the Getty Museum, where Judith Keller, Senior Curator of Photographs, invited us to her study room, to look at some of the most famous Mapplethorpe photographs, including a ghostly self-portrait, shot not long before his death from AIDS. However, my favorite was a dramatic and revealing portrait of Andy Warhol, stripped of his impersonal public mask. To see these images and to hear the stories of the relationship between Mapplethorpe and his patron and lover, Sam Wagstaff, was priceless.


Scott Schaefer, Senior Curator of Paintings at the Getty Museum,
discussing Titian's Portrait of Alfonso d'Avalos

Museum curators not only take care of their collections, but are, in their own right, a treasure trove of information. When Scott Schaefer, the Getty's Senior Curator of Paintings, guided us through the collection of European paintings, we completely lost track of time. He was sharing amazing stories of searching for and, on occasion, successfully hunting down major masterpieces by Titian, Watteau and Turner.


Édouard Manet's Portrait of Madame Brunet
recently acquired by the Getty Museum

I especially loved the story of his recent acquisition of a beautiful rare early portrait by Édouard Manet. It depicts Madame Brunet, a young, elegantly dressed lady of embarrassingly limited taste and imagination. Why do I say this? When she saw this finished portrait, she felt it was not flattering enough and refused to accept it. Stupid, stupid, stupid…I wonder if her great grandchildren are still crying over such a terrible error in judgment.

Banner image: Scott Schaefer, Senior Curator of Paintings at the Getty Museum, in front of a portrait by Titian. All photos by Edward Goldman