The J. Paul Getty Trust 2016 Report
J. Paul Getty Museum
Timothy Potts, Director
The J. Paul Getty Museum seeks to inspire curiosity about, and enjoyment and understanding of, the visual arts by collecting, conserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of outstanding quality and historical importance. To fulfill this mission, the Museum continues to build its collections through purchase and gifts, and develops programs of exhibitions, publications, scholarly research, public education, and the performing arts that engage our diverse local and international audiences. All of these activities are enhanced by the uniquely evocative architectural and garden settings provided by the Museum's two renowned venues: the Getty Villa and the Getty Center.
In November 2015, two tapestries from the collection of France’s Sun King were carefully loaded into a freight carrier for the eleven-hour flight from Europe to Los Angeles. Part of France’s rich historic patrimony, these exquisite objects woven from wool, silk, and gold-wrapped thread, are now part of the collection of the Mobilier National, the French national repository for historic furniture and interior decoration. The tapestries had just been cleaned—for the first time in more than one hundred years—at the De Wit Royal Manufacturers in Belgium and then conserved in Paris and Aubusson (in central France) so they could be featured in the Getty’s major loan exhibition, Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV (on view December 15, 2015–May 1, 2016). The cost of this meticulous restoration, which took nearly a year, was funded by the Getty Museum.
As with many art museums, one of the Getty’s primary responsibilities is to care for the works in its own collection as it seeks to study, interpret, and conserve artistic heritage across a wide range of centuries and media. Unlike most of the Getty’s peer institutions, the Getty Museum goes well beyond this mandate, partnering with institutions in Europe and America to facilitate the study and restoration of works in other museums that otherwise might not receive the attention they require. The collaboration with the Mobilier National is just the most recent example of the Museum’s efforts to work with institutions that do not have the capacity to undertake such conservation projects alone.
In 2007, as part of a partnership agreement for conservation and exhibitions between the Getty Museum and the Dresden State Art Collections, an ancient Roman marble Statue of a God (AD 100–200) came to the Getty Villa from the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in more than 150 pieces.
The statue had been damaged at the end of World War II while being transported by train, and the pieces have remained in storage ever since. Following more than two years of study and painstaking reconstruction at the Getty Villa, the figure can now again be appreciated as an important work of ancient Roman art.
When the restored statue was returned to Dresden, it also bore a new identity. Since being found in Italy in the 1600s, the figure had been variously interpreted, as restored parts were removed and replaced, and had assumed a variety of titles, from Alexander the Great to Antinous in the guise of Bacchus. At the time, such restorations and recreations were commonplace. In June 2008, curators, art historians, and conservators gathered at the Villa to review the past additions and identities, and to determine what the statue’s identity should be today. Because the original head and right arm are lost, the figure’s exact configuration may never be known. However, after much deliberation, the decision was made not to add back any of the heads or arms of past restoration efforts and to identify the statue as Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Today, the statue has been returned to Dresden where it once again graces the sculpture galleries after an absence of more than seventy years.
Some of the Getty Museum’s collaborative conservation projects with other museums also take it beyond the Getty’s own collecting areas. The most prominent recent example involved the monumental abstract expressionist paintingby Jackson Pollock, Mural. Commissioned in 1943 by art collector and dealer Peggy Guggenheim for her New York City apartment, Mural is considered one of the most iconic paintings of the twentieth century. Now in the collection of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, it represents a seminal moment in Pollock’s career as he moved toward a more experimental and gestural application of paint. In July 2012, the painting came to the Getty for study and conservation, providing a rare opportunity to look closely at its material structure, and to explore the paints Pollock used and how they were applied. This revealed an artist who combined traditional materials and methods of application with more unconventional ones, including house paints. Mural is one of Pollock’s largest paintings, and its scale allowed him to develop innovative methods of paint application that would later become the hallmark of his “drip” style.
Following two years of treatment and research by Museum conservators and scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute, the painting’s thick, dulling layers of varnish were removed and a new stretcher was fabricated to support the significant weight of the canvas. Today, Mural reflects much more accurately the masterpiece that Pollock created in 1943. The painting is currently on tour and was recently shown in Berlin at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, the Museo Picasso Málaga in Spain, and during the Venice Biennale at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
These examples of the Getty Museum’s work to conserve and deepen the understanding of the world’s cultural heritage build on a history of such collaborations going back some thirty years. Two eighteenth-century life-size animal paintings by French artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry—one of a rhinoceros affectionately known as Clara, the second of a lion—were treated at the Getty from 2003 to 2007, and then returned to their home at the Staatliches Museum Schwerin in Germany. From 2008 to 2015, thirteen funerary vases from southern Italy were studied and conserved as part of a collaborative restoration project with the Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. A cache of opulent Roman silver treasure found near the French town of Berthouville and today in the collection of the Cabinet des Médailles at the Bibliothèque national de France underwent four years of meticulous conservation and research at the Getty Villa. And in 2010 to 2012, an eighteen-month study and conservation treatment of a sixteenth-century altarpiece by the Dutch painter Maerten van Heemskerck restored the work to its full glory as one of the treasures of the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland.
And we continue to plan new collaborative projects for the future. In May of 2016, the Museum signed an agreement with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples to conserve a signature ancient vase in its collection, a Colossal Red-Figure Krater from Altamura, Apulia. Nearly six feet tall and dating to around 350 BC, the krater is a masterpiece of the ornately decorated vases produced at Taranto in Apulia, southern Italy. It features a highly detailed representation of the Underworld populated with more than twenty mythological figures, including the gods Hades and Persephone, the musician Orpheus, and the heroes Herakles and Sisyphus, who was eternally punished by having to roll a giant boulder up a hill. This project is the latest in a broad cultural exchange agreement made in 2007 between Italy’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Tourism and the Getty Museum that has contributed significantly to the preservation of Italy’s cultural heritage.
The Getty Museum takes pride in sharing the conservation knowledge and skills of its highly trained staff to help preserve artworks of outstanding historical and aesthetic significance—both those in its own collections and those from other institutions. Indeed, this flows naturally from the Museum’s mission to “inspire curiosity about, and enjoyment and understanding of, the visual arts by collecting, conserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of outstanding quality and historical importance.”
Each of the Museum’s four conservation departments (antiquities, paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, and paper) is engaged in activities that help advance the field of conservation globally, from disseminating research to other institutions and colleagues in the conservation community through publications, to sponsoring symposia and advanced training workshops.
The Getty has played a leading role for over two decades in the area of seismic mitigation for museum collections, developing a variety of novel methods to reduce the risk of earthquake damage to works of art. The Department of Antiquities Conservation at the Getty Villa has pioneered an isolator base that minimizes the impact of a major earthquake by allowing the work of art to “ride” free of the base as it is displaced both horizontally and vertically in a seismic event. The Getty has shared this research internationally by publishing the design plans for the isolator bases, and through workshops at the Getty and throughout the world in seismically active regions, such as Japan, Greece, Turkey, southern Italy, and China.
In Sicily, a number of objects that were particularly fragile and susceptible to seismic damage are now protected on isolator bases provided by the Getty. These include the famous Statue of a Youth from the island of Mozia (“The Mozia Charioteer”; 470–460 BC); the Gela Krater (475–450 BC); the marble Statue of a Kouros (“The Agrigento Youth”; about 480 BC) from the Museo Archeologico Regionale in Agrigento; and the marble Cult Statue of a Goddess (425–400 BC) on view at the Museo Archeologico di Aidone. In some cases, in addition to providing new custom-designed bases for these important works, the Getty has undertaken seismic studies of the buildings in which the works are housed in order to better calibrate the base to the site.
The obligation to protect the world’s artistic heritage also applies to our own collection. The very act of acquiring brings with it a responsibility to protect these works of art in climate-controlled environments with around-the-clock security, and to make them available to scholars and visitors for study and viewing. This duty of care cannot be taken for granted. The devastating destruction of monuments and artifacts in museums and archeological sites around the world in recent years due to man’s own actions is a sad reminder of how much still remains to be done in educating people of all cultures and faiths—and their governments—of this important duty.
In June, the Museum announced the acquisition of a late-2nd centuryAD Roman marble head of an older patrician woman. The work had been spotted in a New York gallery by the Getty’s senior curator of antiquities, who realized that it belonged to a headless draped marble sculpture of a woman in our collection that had been acquired in 1972. The Getty purchased the head and is in the process of rejoining it to the body, allowing the Museum to present the complete statue to the public for the first time. Scholars will soon be in a position to study the sculpture and, perhaps, determine the identity of its subject. It is this sort of serendipitous discovery, and the ensuing scholarship it inspires, that prompted the Villa’s decision in the 1980s to maintain a study collection of fragments. As the Roman head proves, some of these fragments might one day be reunited with pieces in other institutions around the world, thus restoring works that over the course of time were broken and dispersed.
Exhibitions also shed important light on the artistic heritage in museums around the world and thus on the importance of protecting it for future generations. One particularly successful recent example was Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World (July 28–November 1, 2015), which brought together some fifty bronze sculptures of the Hellenistic era. These large-scale bronzes are among the rarest survivals of antiquity, as most were melted down in Roman times or later for their metal and re-used. At ancient sites like Olympia in Greece, rows of empty stone pedestals stand in stark testimony to both the ubiquity of bronze statuary in the Hellenistic era and to their subsequent destruction. Power and Pathos represented the first time so many of these exceptional works had been shown together side-by-side in one exhibition, creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience of some of the finest ancient sculpture ever made.
Coinciding with this exhibition, the Getty hosted the XIX International Congress on Ancient Bronzes in October 2015. At the Congress, archeologists, art historians, conservators, curators, scientists, and students gathered to investigate the artistry, craftsmanship, production, conservation, and technology of ancient bronzes. Power and Pathos provided both the artistic platform and the scholarly context for this gathering. The papers delivered at the Congress will shortly be published by the Getty.
Over the years, other exhibitions have showcased the work of the Museum and other programs of the Getty Trust in conserving cultural heritage far beyond our borders. Gods of Ankor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia (February 22–August 14, 2011) was inspired by the Getty Foundation’s efforts in establishing a conservation lab and training program for conservators at the National Museum of Cambodia. Stories in Stone: Conserving Mosaics of Roman Africa; Masterpieces from the National Museum of Tunisia (October 26, 2006–April 30, 2007) grew out of the Getty Conservation Institute’s partnership with the Institut National du Patrimoine in Tunisia to train conservation technicians in cleaning, monitoring, and maintaining mosaics in situ so that they can be seen and studied in their original settings. A Getty Foundation grant to conserve a mosaic at the remote Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine in the shadow of Mount Sinai, Egypt, led to fifty-three objects—many of them exceptionally rare and important icons of the Byzantine faith—traveling for the first time from the monastery to the Getty for the exhibition Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai (November 14, 2006–March 4, 2007).
Public Programs and Education
In fighting for the protection of culture at risk, we cannot rest at preserving and protecting the works of art within our care, or those we reach through international collaborations. We must also cultivate and engage audiences from around the world, and aid them in finding meaning and shaping narratives that connect with this heritage—understanding that individuals who have made personal connections to art are more likely to become allies and advocates in its conservation.
At the Getty Villa, the in-gallery presentation of ancient artifacts is extended and re-invented through events that connect the ancient world with today’s reality. Last year’s outdoor theater production,Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, presented a gripping reimagining of Euripides’s classic tale of the story of Medea set in present day East Los Angeles, addressing contemporary issues of illegal immigration and the complexities of family, tradition, and clashing cultures in a new world. Euripides’s play, written in 431 BC, was given a new relevance when played out among a group of struggling Mexican immigrants—a plight that is all too familiar to many Americans and continues to make headlines today.
Engaging new audiences is a key priority of the Museum’s Education Department, which hosts more than 160,000 students and leads more guided school tours each year than any other museum in Los Angeles. The Museum’s educational programs aim to help young people make their first real connection with art, both in the classroom and online, at a time when schools across the country are reducing their commitment to arts education. Working in collaboration with teachers and key educational partners, the Education Department develops lesson plans and teacher training tools to keep arts education alive and relevant in twenty-first-century classrooms. By engaging both teachers and learners with compelling opportunities to explore, learn and create beyond the classroom walls, the Education team aims to inspire a life-long love of art and a passionate commitment to its conservation.
As we consider the future of museums and the role we play in conserving the works of artists through the ages, the Getty seeks to be a place of innovation and leadership. Through its collections, exhibitions, and public programs—both in the galleries and online—it continues to engage new generations who can learn from and be inspired by the past as they look to the future. Ultimately, the preservation of cultural heritage will depend on future generations valuing the extraordinary beauty and inspiration that resides in great works of art of all cultures, times and places.