I’m not sure what heaven will look like, assuming I get there, but I think I got a glimpse of it today when I spent a few hours at the Getty Museum in LA. Or at least, I got a glimpse at what I can imagine architects strive for when they design a building; a sense of the celestial on earth, and the harmony of architecture, art and nature that creates something akin to magic.
Visiting the Getty is “free” – except for the $15 parking charge. You start your journey (after being greeted by an army of smiling docents) by piling into spiffy little trams that wind you up the hills to the museum, which is actually a research institute and conservation center as well as a public museum. As you climb, you see the houses and buildings built seemingly in defiance of gravity on the hills, and suddenly landslides make sense. The tram spills you out onto a gleaming white courtyard, and here’s where I start to marvel at the skill of the construction; everything is white, yet it’s not that abrasive to your eyes. Sunglasses are a good thing, though. Outdoor sculpture spears above the courtyard, set at a strange contrast to the view of a developed Califormia hill.
As you wander into the Getty, the first thing you want to do is wander out…into the courtyard, around which the different pavilions are clustered. Fountains, cafes, tables, chairs…they all beckon you to relax and enjoy as your eyes are drawn up and out to the structures of the buildings and the views that beckon just beyond your eyesight. No one is whispering, kids have room to run and wade in the water and get their energy out before you duck into the cool, air conditioned galleries, which are actually a bit hard to find.
My first stop was the photographic exhibition, titled Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixies. Unwieldy title aside, it was the most compelling (and non-heavenly) exhibition I saw during my visit. Lots of war photography and images of civil unrest, which I guess is what there’s been to photograph in the last 50 years. I was struck speechless by one photo from Philip Jones Griffiths, which, among all the photos in the exhibition and the accompanying book, had absolutely no description. It didn’t need one, other than the knowledge that Mr. Griffiths photographed the Vietnam war, and attempted to show something other than the glory of battle. Here’s the photo – and here’s the link where I found it online, as part of his “Vietnam, Inc” publication.
It’s the man’s wedding ring that just took my breath. That, and the little girl is wearing pretty earrings.
In fact, I think this is enough for now. More later. If you can, just sit with this photo for a few moments. See what it says.