Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Getty and Disney

The Getty just may be for museums what Disneyland is for theme parks. That statement is meant neither as an act of heresy nor as a slur but rather it is said with respect and awe. And this isn't about "edutainment" either; it's about the recognition that we live in an experience and transformation-oriented economy and making the most of that fact in order to be effective storytellers.

Think about it: what separates Disneyland from regular amusement parks? Disneyland is about more than just rides and attractions, it's about paying attention to every last little detail in order to create an entire cohesive experience. Well, the Getty does that, too, making it more than just a museum in the sense of being a place where one can go to see art.

The Getty Villa creates an entire environment for visitors to explore and experience, resulting in as cohesive a story as ever could be told be Disney! I was up at the Getty Villa last weekend and the Getty/Disney comparison really struck me when I was in the bathroom. A most ignoble of places to make such a realization, but still, the fact that the Getty had included Italian tiles in the bathrooms with wood doors and trim reminiscent of the rest of the decor throughout the Villa made me realize that there wasn't a single aspect of the Getty Villa experience that did not speak to its setting or the collections.

From the floors to the ceilings to the paint on the walls, every design element was clearly well thought out and intentional. For example, the walls in the Gods and Goddesses gallery are a pale sky blue, emphasizing the divine nature of the images in the room. Next door meanwhile in the Luxury Vessels gallery the walls are marble in a variety of deep, rich colors, heightening the sense of luxury and extravagance.

The Villa itself is a replica of the Villa Papyri, an ancient Roman home situated in the town of Herculaneum and belonging to Julius Caesar's father-in-law. The town and the villa were both buried during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, so architectural and design elements for the Getty Villa were also borrowed from other ancient Roman homes. Some of these elements include the peristyle with the trompe l'oeil frescoes along the walls, as well as the out-lying gardens where olives, grapes, pomegranates, thyme and other herbs, fruits and plants that would have been found in a proper Roman garden thrive in the Southern California climate.

The menu at the cafe makes use of Mediterranean flavors and themes and an outdoor amphitheater serves the dual role of hearkening back to antiquity while hosting performances and events.

You can even literally immerse yourself in the art, life and times of antiquity in the Family Forum. Here you can decorate a kratyr (with erasable marker) or pose yourself to be an image on an ancient vessel.

During my few hours of strolling through the exhibits and the grounds for a few hours noting how wonderfully every detail worked to recreate antiquity for me, I wandered into the Stories of the Trojan War gallery and noticed a copy of Homer's Iliad lying on a bench. Alone, I sat down and picked up the book, attached to a piece of Plexiglas that read, "Please do not remove from the gallery."

Rage--Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus' son Achilles...

Surrounded by helmets, statues and other materials that if not actually used during the Trojan War could have been used then, suddenly these words carried a great deal more meaning for me than they ever did when I had to read The Iliad back in college.

Feeling a quiet awe, I tiptoed up the grand staircase to the current special exhibit, The Color of Life. Most people today have come to think of antiquity as being very monochromatic--with the exception of the orange and black vessels, most architecture and statuary is pretty much just white marble. But that was not always the case and with the help of scientific pigment analysis, recreations have been made of some artworks as they would have looked when they were contemporary. What a riot of color! Vivid oranges and bold blues, patterns everywhere and animated eyes instead of the blanks we are so accustomed to seeing.

My reading of the Iliad in the Trojan War room and the Color of Life exhibit both compounded the already-complete experience established for me by the grounds, architecture and design of the Getty Villa. But what made my time at this "transformation" destination even better than a trip to Disneyland was the sense of authenticity. Yes, the Villa itself is a replica but ultimately that is just window dressing, a prop to set the stage for the real stuff--the artifacts that I saw in the exhibits: the gods and goddesses, the Trojan War era armor, the statues of the muses and Herakles, and the vases and statues with minute traces of pigment still visible to the naked eye.

All photos by Allyson Lazar 2008

No comments: