An Unexpected Sunday in Los Angeles

Evening Shoes, 1927, by Edward Steichen

By Johna Till Johnson

Photos by Johna Till Johnson and Daniel Kalman (and assorted artists)

I never intended to be at the Getty Center in Los Angeles on a sunny Sunday in July.

But as luck would have it, I was in town for a business trip, and I got a text from my friend Dan: His mother had just died (not unexpectedly). I postponed my flight home, rented a car, and headed for Dan’s mother’s house.

People grieve differently. Dan is a scientist with the soul of an artist, and throughout his life, art museums and galleries have been his places of worship. He and Vlad shared many happy hours soaking in art all over the world.  Dan had happy memories of visiting the great art galleries in London with Vlad (who initially studied art history at Cambridge before changing his career to focus on science).

Baroness de Meyer in a Hat by Reboux, 1929, by Baron Adolf de Meyer

So when Dan suggested a trip to the Getty that same weekend,  I was enthusiastic about accompanying him, his sons, his brother-in-law, and his eight-year-old niece.

My experience of museums had been limited to Europe and European-inflected cities like New York and Boston. So I guess subconsciously I was expecting a tall, dark, imposing building.

The Getty is imposing, all right, but in a classic California way.

Cacti at the Getty, by Johna Till Johnson

Designed by Richard Meier, the Getty looks exactly like the mental image many of us have of Heaven: White columns, lush green foliage, flowers, fountains, mountains, and sea.

It’s a campus of beautifully designed  buildings, interspersed with gorgeous landscapes, perched on the top of a hill with a breathtaking view of Los Angeles, the Pacific, and Catalina Island. It’s so sprawling that the buildings are interconnected by a cable-pulled tram (which we eschewed in favor of a walk up the hill).

Trees at the Getty, by Johna Till Johnson

Dan, like Vlad, loves photography, so we went to the current photography exhibition: Icons of Style .

None of us were really that into fashion (unless it’s made by Kokotat or sold at REI). But Vlad had introduced me to Edward Steichen many years ago, and Steichen’s photographs were among those featured.

Model on Ship, about 1946, by Bill Brandt

In fact, Steichen’s 1927 photograph “Evening Shoes” was one of the first we saw.   I leaned in closer to study the angles and edges of the shadows.

“Look at that!” said the woman next to me. I glanced over. She was older than I, bejeweled and made up, and her voice had a familiar intonation… Sure enough, she mentioned she was from New York.

We both admired the photo out loud, pointing out the features we liked best.
“And those are two different shoes!” she commented triumphantly. Indeed they were—and I’d missed it! (Take a closer look at the photo up top). I wasn’t the only one. Later on, I found out that a friend who had studied photography and was very familiar with the photo had also missed the fact that the shoes were from different pairs.

Kelly Stewart, New York, 2011 by Hiro

Dan and I wandered through the rest of the exhibit, both agreeing that the Chinese-born photographer Hiro had an unusually striking eye. Then we rejoined Dan’s family outside, and meandered through the grounds, enjoying the sunshine, gardens, and architecture.

On that unexpected Sunday, we reminded ourselves of something important: Art, like nature, heals.

Detail: Fountain at the Getty, by Daniel Kalman

Note: In the photos of photos, I’ve done my best to edit out extraneous reflections (including that of the photographer). But if you look carefully, you can see them… 

16 responses to “An Unexpected Sunday in Los Angeles

  1. Looks like you had a great visit….

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I never really thought of NY and Boston as “European-inflected,” but now that you mention it, you are probably accurate. I suppose it’s because these are old cities with much of its original architecture from Europe.

    I’ve been in California half a dozen times, but never been in a museum. Lots of scenery and bluffs and ocean and seals … and food. But no museums. if there is a next time, I’ll have to try it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      It really was mind-blowing, Marilyn.

      I never thought about the possibility of a museum being different from the European model. But there is a true “new world” western sensibility that appears to have grown up over the past several decades (the Getty was only built in the 1990s).

      The traffic is insane, as is the idea that you can’t get to the museum except by car. But once you get over that, the convergence of art and sheer physical beauty was such a pleasant surprise!


  3. John and I went to see the other Getty…the Roman villa. Took a journey to California to finaliy understand what a Roman villa would have looked like!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      I know what you mean, weirdly enough! It’s kind of like California is the colorized version of ancient Rome—without the middle ages and the Industrial era piled on top!


  4. Thanks for bringing me back. Johna – to your site and with these particular contents. Sixty years ago those shoes (either pair) would have really taken my fancy……. Now..?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Yeah, I’m mostly barefoot or in Crocs these days myself. But I still occasionally break out the 6-inch stiletto heels that Vlad loved ;-).

      VERY occasionally!


  5. So lovely to see you back, Johna, and with such lovely photos. That first one is a stunner! If you’re ever up in San Francisco you must get to the deYoung Museum. Very traditional and different from the Getty, which I’ve not seen.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It IS a spectacular museum on a wonderful site; I’m glad you liked it too, Johna, though it’s been 20 years since I was last there. Thanks for starting to post again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Hi Harry! Thanks for reading, and posting.

      I actually never intended to stop, and looking back, I realized I stopped in June and July of last year, too. I think the advent of summer paddling season always takes me by surprise–I’m so busy paddling I don’t make time to post.

      The silver lining to being backlogged is that I have quite a lot of partly-finished drafts to polish up and post… so stay tuned!


  7. What a nice post, Johna….it was interesting to learn that Vlad originally studied art….and that your friend chose to go to the Getty that day. A very wise choice, because you’re right, art heals. And i love your parting shot – it’s very LA!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks for reading, and posting!

      Another interesting fact about Vlad: He asked me once, early in our relationship, what I thought was his defining characteristic.

      The answer he was looking for, and which he finally supplied, was “My esthetic sense”.

      It’s so very true. His esthetic sense informed all his work, from photography to science to kayaking.

      And interestingly, it was nearly as well-developed when he was sixteen (judging from the photographs I uncovered after his death) as it was when he was mature.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: The Cat that Found Me | Wind Against Current

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