Issue 11 : Summer 2001
Last Autumn in response to an invitation from the Paintings Department of the Getty Museum I was a guest scholar at the Research Center where I was able to work on a new edition of Marcantonio Michiel, a 16th century Venetian connoisseur's notes on art.
The Getty is generous to its scholars, providing them with a free flat in a Hispanic style apartment block plus pool on Sunset Boulevard and a state-of-the-art office with views of the Pacific at the Center. In addition to a modest stipend and the services of a research assistant it offers discounts on Getty food and books. Those who like myself were carless were taken to and from work by shuttle and driven once a week to a local supermarket.
In October a series of weekly visits organized by the Research Center included a trip to the Watts Towers in dangerous downtown Los Angeles and a police escorted tour around the political murals on a 40's no-go housing estate. A more relaxed visit to the Huntington Museum allowed us to meet its fellows and inspect its library and cactus garden.
The Getty library is rapidly expanding as it buys up more and more scholars' collections. I read annotated volumes that had belonged to Frances Yates, to Ulrich Middeldorf and had access to Ellis Waterhouse's papers. In the special collections were copies of unpublished notes made by Jacopo Morelli, the Marciana Librarian who produced the first 1800 edition of Michiels' Notizie and thousands of letters written by Venetian 18th century monks based at San Michele in Isola. Of particular help to me was the celebrated Provenance Index, which enabled the tracking down of obscure 18th century dealers and the filling out of my knowledge of Paduan Renaissance collections which are vital to my research. Only a third of the library is on open access but scholars are allowed to house books long-term in their offices. A powerful inter-library loan system brings books from all over the U.S.A. while special arrangements with U.C.L.A. guarantees exceptionally swift delivery. I visited the university to study items in its fine Aldine collection and to bring back books by car !
The Getty is a vast organization and its diverse parts do not always co-operate as fully as might be expected. For instance, as a scholar attached to the Museum I was excluded from the seminar relating to the annual scholars' programme which is currently devoted to Copies despite requests from individual speakers that I might attend. Various contradictory excuses were made; lack of space, disruption to the unity of the group etc. etc. I was therefore especially glad that my own lecture in which I reported on my research, sponsored by the Education Department, was open to all, university students, teachers, Getty employees etc. There were advantages to being affiliated to the Museum for freed from the obligatory reading required by the seminars I had more time to discuss conservation issues and to view Getty Titians in the process of being cleaned. Benefiting from my hosts' good relations with the Norton Simon I visited Pasadena frequently where I was able to see dossiers.
Life at the Getty is not all golden. A young Mexican window-cleaner fell to his death while working through the night and on the same day a deranged local attacked security staff with a kitchen knife claiming that the Getty had turned her son into a robot. Long repeated earthquake practice reminded one of the ever-present threat of total destruction.
The Autumn is a good time to be in California. The weather was warm enough to allow daily swimming at dawn. The citrus fruits ripened in Brentwood. Wild deer and eagles could be seen on the Getty Mountain, humming birds and turtle doves beside the pool. The season was festive with Columbus Day and Thanksgiving and the Getty's lavish parties for Hallowe'en and the Winter Celebration (p.c.for Christmas). It was interesting to witness the prolonged presidential election, to visit the huge California exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum and to venture into the Joshua Tree and Anza-Borrego deserts. Of the Getty exhibitions I was most impressed by the beautiful display of the Windsor Raphael drawings. In company with curators I was able to see much more of the Hearst Castle than usual and to pass en-route through the 'Grapes of Wrath' country with its Mexican crop-pickers towns.
Research facilities and meeting-free time apart, one of the main gains was the making of new friends, fellow scholars from Latin America, Chinese Americans, Hungarian film-makers, architects and painters-in-residence. I was continually entertained by the wit, creativity and hospitality of my curator hosts and moved by the patience of those librarians who got my computer back on course when it strayed from catalogues to the L.A. traffic news and horoscope.
My return to London on Christmas eve coincided with a burst boiler and total loss of heat and hot water well into the New Year. This combined with an attempted robbery did little to lift my spirits. I therefore naturally hope to return to the Getty where study and recreation seemed for once to be in near perfect balance and money was no object.