Being an art critic means being open to an endless stream of visual information. I guess it's a professional hazard to respond to every picture, to every image -- the good, the great, and the ugly -- and to judge it in terms of its aesthetics. While reading this morning's L.A. Times dance review, I was struck by the ugliest possible photograph of classical ballet dancers -- undeniably God's most graceful creatures --captured in a performance of Swan Lake by the Kirov Ballet. While the dance critic raves about the beauty and elegance of their performance, the accompanying photograph tells a totally different story, reducing this timeless classic to an unappealing, difficult-to-read image of swans with drooping necks and broken wings. I wonder whether the editor is aesthetically challenged or just fell asleep at the wheel...?
Or could it be an example of the design shifts proudly introduced by the L.A. Times this week? The redesigned front page is a confusing hodgepodge of photos and extra-bold headlines. Imagine an orchestra without a conductor, with every musician clamoring for attention by playing his loudest -- now you've got the picture. L.A. Times readers seem to agree with me: out of eleven letters published in today's Opinion section, ten are negative, claiming, "the paper looks tacky" and that the "new format is a mess..." As for myself, I'm holding a breath in anticipation of the new, supposedly "improved" look for the Calendar section to be revealed this Sunday.
Being an art critic also means trying your best to be fair and give credit when it's due. I went on the record criticizing, some might say rather harshly, the unholy mess in which The Getty has been drowning for the last few years. But recently I noticed a discernable and much-welcome change. Seeing the sold-out performances of the Greek tragedy and burlesque-style comedy at the Getty Villa, made me aware that the Getty is ready to relax, at least a bit, its corporate, and one might say, rather anal-retentive image.
These days, upon disembarking from the tram at the Getty Center, one is greeted by a recently installed magnificent sculpture of a reclining female nude by Aristide Maillol that provides a most welcome contrast to the stark geometry of the Richard Meier architecture. At the museum's main rotunda entrance, which always struck me as crying out for art, one notices a large exclamation point -- a tall, narrow figurative bronze sculpture by Giacometti. These and other monumental sculptures are part of the Ray Stark collection donated to the Getty last year, and now in the process of being installed throughout the grounds. I've never seen a Henry Moore displayed to a better effect than his semi-abstract bronze now gracing the lower terrace, just in front of the entrance to the newly enlarged and redesigned Museum photography galleries.
There is also a new hopeful spirit and energy that I detect in talking to various people working at the Getty. And the current exhibition and lecture program couldn't be more diverse or promising. In a rather unexpected way, a new exhibition juxtaposes German paintings borrowed from Dresden museums with artworks from the Getty's own collection. Just yesterday, I saw the ambitious new exhibition of 170 contemporary photographs from the Berman Collection -- a collective and unaffected portrait of America and Americans just as we are, without pretensions or posing. And in a few days, two more exhibitions will be unveiled: one of ancient icons from the oldest Christian monastery, at Mt. Sinai in Egypt; the other features rare Roman mosaics from Tunisia. Talk about an embarrassment of riches!
"From Caspar David Friedrich to Gerhard Richter: German Paintings from Dresden"
October 5, 2006-April 29, 2007
"Where We Live: Photographs of America from the Berman Collection"
October 24, 2006--February 25, 2007
The Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049