A Gallop Through the Getty, and Jackson Pollock’s Mural

I promised you a gallop through the Getty Center in Los Angeles, and a gallop it shall be. The place is so large and the collections so extensive that you must gallop, or at least briskly trot, to take it in within a morning’s time. Finally, yours truly gets around to it nearly a decade and a half after its opening. Mustn’t rush into these things.

Getty Museum – Calder sculpture

His Grace (my husband for new readers) is not a big fan of Calder. How can you not like Calder? It must be an Iowa thing. He is from Iowa, which is relevant down the post.

In any case, the outdoors is as beautiful as the indoors.

Getty Museum – Delusions of Grandeur by Rene Magritte

You probably know the sprawling complex sits atop a hill accessed by tram, unless you have a coveted top-of-hill parking pass, which we luckily did. 

Getty Center, Los Angeles. Architect Richard Meier

Artful as the art itself is the compelling Richard Meier architecture. 

Getty Museum – Interior

… And the daring landscape by artist Robert Irwin. What we missed in blue skies on this late February day, we made up for in blooming azaleas in this water feature. 

Getty Center, landscape design by Robert Irwin

Reportedly there was a bit of ego clashing between Meier and Irwin in the planning. Shocking, I know.

This gal would have sorted out ol’ Richard and Robert, I bet. Or at least would have gotten them thinking about other things…

Old master portrait at Getty Center

While this one would not likely have been bothered by either of them. Do you think she was really this thin, or Sargent just painted her this thin? I have a portrait of my 6-foot-tall (fabulous) mother, d’un certain age, who looks to be about a size 4, which in real life she would have outgrown by the 3rd grade. 

Portrait by John Singer Sargent

This Sargent dainty was holding a cigarette when he painted her, though it was later painted out. Maybe that is how she stayed so thin.

A nickel if you guess this artist:

An early Vincent Van Gogh


Currently on exhibit is “A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography.” She was the first British monarch whose life was fully recorded by cameras. I don’t know that she was all that thrilled about it, if you know what I mean. It is easier to be painted skinny than to be photographed skinny.

A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography – exhibit poster

But I do not want to give the impression that being skinny is all that great. I gave up on it years ago.

This red leather folding album was magnificent.

Victorian photography exhibit at Getty Center

Another current exhibit is that of Jackson Pollock’s gigantic, amazing, much mythologized Mural, which  brings us, of course (you are saying to yourself), to Iowa. It is a long and rather juicy story (compendium of articles here), but Peggy Guggenheim, who originally commissioned the painting for her New York townhouse, gave it to the University of Iowa in 1951. (Another good article from UI Museum of Art here.) I love this photo. Look at the masterpiece just hanging up there like an old beach towel.

University of Iowa Studio With Pollock’s Mural, top left.

UI is well known for its Iowa Writers’ Workshop, but did you know it was the first university in the country to offer a degree in the creative arts? That is definitely an Iowa thing. His Grace is a UI alum, but not exactly what you would have called intimate with the creative writing dept. Although judging from his emails I wonder he didn’t minor in Haiku.

Getty Museum – Jackson Pollock Mural, with conservator Laura Rivers

What is  Mural doing at the Getty, you ask? It was there to be restored, a complex and painstaking process two years in the making.  At almost 8′ x 20′ the dern thing barely fit in the museum’s freight elevator, said conservator Laura Rivers, who hosted us in the gigantic studio where the restoration was being done. Pollock had to tear out a wall in his New York studio to accommodate it. “It looks pretty big,” he wrote at the time, “but exciting as all hell.”

Jackson Pollock Mural signature

Well it was exciting as all hell to see it there and just be there with it — at the risk of sounding reverential — but it was.

Mural is now on display at the Getty until June 1. It will then have a world tour before  landing back home at the UI Museum in Iowa City. Though at one point in danger of being sold to raise scholarship funds (with a value of $140 million+, it’s tempting), the good people of the Hawkeye State wouldn’t hear of it. Mural, it seems, is truly an Iowa thing.

Jackson Pollock Mural date – ’43

Ah, now here’s something you won’t see when it’s hung in the museum: the back. All new and improved and permanent for the forseeable future. You can imagine the problems of warping and sagging with a canvas of this size.

I wish I hadn’t brought up “problems of sagging.”

Getty Museum – back of Pollock’s Mural

While we are behind the scenes, as it were, the tools of the conservator’s craft are also fascinating and fun to see.

Getty Museum – Conservator’s paintbox
Getty Museum – Conservator’s tools

The notes pinned up on their bulletin boards say things like “In Rembrandt’s studio in the 1630s…”

Conservator’s note to self, Getty Center

Mine say things like “Get bikini wax.”

Exhilarated if not overwhelmed by so much art excitement, we were in need of nourishment. Joining us for lunch was the Getty’s personable and engaging director Timothy Potts, whom we had met and dined with a few weeks prior. It is comforting to know one’s behavior was not such that Mr. Potts was discouraged from our company in future.


Film producer and dear family friend Jeffrey Pill organized this very special day for us, accompanied by Jane Van Voorhis from the University of Iowa Foundation. Gallery Educator William Zaluski was our trusty and able guide. Thank you all again, so very much. And thank you again, Timothy, for that fantastic lunch. 

If you go…

If you go, the excellent restaurant is a must. There is an informal cafe as well, and snack bars and such. You will want to make a day of your Getty visit in any event. I can’t wait to go back.

Bonus Points…

P.S. Bonus points: At our earlier dinner with Timothy Potts, hosted by the lovely Cynthia Spivey of The Water Is Smiling, we met Timothy’s friend the (also) lovely and gifted photographer Kathy Suder. Kathy’s work is being shown through August 17 at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, in an exhibit of subway photos entitled Underground. And OMG and I almost forgot: Years ago, Kathy, as a young assistant at Glamour Magazine, cooked dinner for her then-boyfriend, after which he proposed. What she prepared for him came to be known as “Engagement Chicken,” and her recipe and story–the recipe “worked” for others, too–were published and became something of a national sensation. Find the recipe and rest of the story here, on The Water Is Smiling. Just be careful whom you serve it to. I don’t think it’s an Iowa thing.

Outdoor sculpture at the Getty Center


  1. I LOVE the Getty!!!!!!! These photos make me want to return ASAP. Oddly enough, my other fave is very much the opposite: The Frick in NYC. It’s time for me to get out of town…

  2. Great Getty gallop….particularly love the restoration on the Pollack mural part.
    So helpful to know that it was painted in 1943 and is now being “conserved” in such
    a beautiful way.. I was born in 1943…..do you think I can get an appointment with
    Laura Rivers???

  3. I’ve enjoyed visiting the Getty Center several times. The Restaurant is a must, especially to see the pool on the Brentwood side, shaped like a grand piano, with the black and white keys! Did you happen to take the Architectural tour? See the fossils in the Jerusalem limestone? Of course, you made a purchase at the Getty Store, right?

  4. There is nothing I like better than a “backstage tour”…even if it does show some problems of sagging! Let’s go together and get the backstage food tour. The restaurant is wonderful, isn’t it? xoxo C.

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