Unanswered Questions for The Getty

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Unanswered Questions for the Getty
By Edward Goldman

So much to tell and so little time to do it. Where to start? I spent Saturday going through at least a dozen galleries in West Hollywood. Nothing was wrong with the exhibitions I saw, but nothing was just right. That is, until I stumbled upon "The X-Ray Drawings" by Joe Goode at the Manny Silverman Gallery. I see your ears perking up! Hmm--I know what you're thinking. West Hollywood. X-Ray Drawings. Naughty, naughty Edward. Well, the joke is on you! This fine exhibition of two dozen of his early drawings from the 60's and 70's is a reminder of an especially important, groundbreaking period in the history of Los Angeles art, in which Joe Goode was, and still remains, one of its seminal figures. These charcoal drawings, inspired by his paintings of torn clouds, indeed look like black and white x-rays of his paintings. My favorite is a magnificent 10-foot long composition that draws its power from being monumental in size and spirit while remaining modest in its execution. The artist took some torn paper and attached it with masking tape on top of a larger sheet of paper and dusted powdered charcoal over it. Then he peeled away the top layer of torn paper to reveal the whitish ghostly image beneath. That's why Joe Goode calls them "The X-Ray Drawings." If I were an ambitious collector, I would snap up this large drawing in a second.

Monday afternoon I went to a Getty Center press luncheon, expecting to hear some news on the latest developments there. As I have learned to expect from everything the Getty does, the event was elegant and meticulously organized but tightly controlled. In spite of my gentle probing over the last few years, Getty officials politely declined to allow the journalists to ask any questions. The event was dedicated to the good news only. After eight years of being closed, the beloved Getty Villa is scheduled to re-open toward the end of the year. There was also great news about the acquisition of a huge archive of famous architectural photographer Julius Shulman, who is the living embodiment of the history of American architecture, and especially of its glorious chapter of California Modernism. To commemorate the 95th birthday of the photographer, who is still going strong, a small exhibition will be mounted in an unreasonably tiny gallery of the Getty's Research Institute. If questions were permitted, I would ask them, "What are the plans for the recently vacated underground gallery space where the collection of Greek and Roman antiquities used to be displayed?" It's been empty for several months and, at least temporarily, could be a much more-appropriate place for an exhibition based on the enormous Julian Shulman archive, which consists of more than 260,000 negatives, prints and transparencies. The morning after this press gathering, I learn from the L.A. Times the bad news: the Getty has lost yet another battle to acquire a high-profile purchase, in this case a rare, 700-year-old illustrated manuscript. Private and public funds were raised in Great Britain to match the high price that the Getty was willing to pay for it. As a result the manuscript was acquired by a competing museum in Britain. Only last summer the Getty went through the same scenario of losing an even higher profile masterpiece, Raphael's "Madonna of the Pink", to the National Gallery in London. This was sad news for us in Los Angeles, indeed. Especially compared to the good fortune of the Metropolitan Museum, which quietly and without controversy acquired the extremely rare 14th century small panel of the Madonna and Child, painted by early Italian Renaissance artist Duccio. The question remains, why does the Metropolitan succeed while the Getty stumbles?

Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to ask. The press event was meant only for the good news.

"Joe Goode: The X-Ray Drawings"
January 8-February 19, 2005
Manny Silverman Gallery
619 North Almont Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Telephone: 310-659-8256

Edward Goldman is the host of KCRW's Art Talk.