Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles

No, this is not the Louvre. It is also not Versailles, or the National Portrait Gallery. This is the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

I had heard many a fabled story about the Getty but none of it compares to the experience of being there: from the cultish tram ride up the hill blaring some music that sounded like a movie soundtrack to Richard Meier’s white travertine cubes that are so bright in the California winter sun you need to wear sunglasses at all times to the schizophrenically disconnected period rooms inside the galleries, everything is a big production. 

You can walk from a medieval chapel in one cube to a Baroque interior in another in under five minutes and the intention to detail is almost compulsive. The fake marble you would find in real Baroque galleries is fake here, too. This is architectural cosplay at its finest! 

Sadly, the pavilion of more recent works was closed. Based on the choice of exhibition architecture in the other ones I imagine it must be some 1920s bar interior? Or maybe some crammed avant-garde gallery space?

Everything seems to be very carefully mulled over and written up with the classic art historical authority that smells a little like mothballs and old tomes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful and comforting. It reminds me of nodding off in a warm and dim lecture hall on cold winter mornings when I was in school. But the blazing sun outside the Getty is a rude awakening. And the cacti on the disturbingly green lawns pull anyone out of whatever fever dream they might have had inside.

What do you call this kind of exhibition design? Is it kitsch? Or is it maybe postmodernism but without the irony? Or is it like that room at the end of Kubrick’s 2001 where the astronaut from the past sees himself in the future? 



The Getty Center, Los Angeles, California