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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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…