Mothers, aunts and grandmothers are simple people. I took them to the Getty Center in Los Angeles today, an attempt to play tour guide and to get my poor grandmother, a visitor from Taiwan, out of the confines of our small town. So far, she’s taken multiple trips to Costco, Target, and the Desert Hills Premium Outlets where she and even more aggressive women from China (with deeper wallets) nearly cleared out the Coach factory story. We failed miserably two years ago to show her any culture and decided this time to take her to some museums and whatnot.
A few days ago they had such a marvelous time at the Huntington Gardens that I suggested they might like to see the Getty as well. My aunt was overjoyed and reshuffled her appointments before I could retract my suggestion and before I knew it it had turned into a day trip of sorts, the kind where grandmother feels compelled to move all her Tai-Chi videos from her camera to her computer to make room for the thousands of photos she might take at the Getty and Aunt Yang comes prepared with thermos full of hot water and a nylon sack filled with nuts and oranges.
I suppose I encouraged this. At the Huntington Gardens I had come alive when I came across Hopper’s “The Long Leg,” a part of the Huntington Art Gallery’s permanent exhibit, and told them everything I knew about Hopper (which I’m proud to say isn’t little), and then got in the habit of talking about the rest of the art in general (I did take half a European Art History Survey course at Berkeley, don’t you know, which makes me nearly an expert) and ended up playing docent. My aunt and grandmother thought it marvelous and thought it the best museum tour they had ever taken because well, it was given by me.
“You know you are the most marvelous young person I have ever met,” my aunt said to me over and over again, “You must know how special you are to be willing to spend so much time with us old people, and to drive us here and there and to explain the art to us! This Hopper fellow! The Long Leg! I will try very hard to remember it. You have educated me today, made me less of a savage.”
My mother, not so easily impressed, pointed at a sculture of Pandora and said, “So she must be holding a box of soap and is about to bathe.”
It was quite a busy day at the Getty. We arrived around 11:30AM and at 12:30PM joined a forty-five minute garden tour led by an enthusiastic woman named Debbie who spoke much more and more loudly than the average docent, but who was quite good, and kept her whole group of about twenty people whose ages ranged from 12 – 77 enrapt at what she had to say. I have now forgotten the names of most of the plants and trees she pointed out, but will forever remember the sight and smell of a low, long leaved shrub called “society garlic.”
The day was sparkling clear with just the faintest layer of smog hanging over Downtown, and everywhere we looked it was just miles and miles of Los Angeles in all its spread out splendor. There! West Hollywood and UCLA; there! that tall cluster, Downtown LA, and over there, Santa Monica, sitting before the deep crystal blue of the Pacific and of course the long undulating hump of Catalina Island. And before all that there were the Getty’s own beautiful gardens. The older women walked, more often in silence than chattering, as I thought they would, with their heads either bent low or looking up, hands held lightly behind their backs. They wondered about the various plants and the stones and the logistics of construction.
“How did they get all these heavy stones up here?” my mother asked over and over again.
“Machines,” I said.
|Photo by Very Highbrow on Instagram.|
An hour or so later she asked again and I wondered if she had forgotten that the center was built in the early 90’s and that it was not one of those eerie mysteries such as Stonehenge or Easter Island, but I had to admit the building itself had an ageless quality about it. My grandmother busied herself photographing everything that caught her eye, from the buildings to the tiniest succulents that looked up at all who walked by, to indolent, confused poodles who sat sunning themselves on the pale pink tile stones. Young children squealed about, running up the wide flat steps, swinging from the handrails, and then rolling down the wide expanse of lawns. We saw young couples on well-intentioned “let’s do something cultural” dates, young people dragged there by their parents and young college students back for winter break trying to place what they’d learned in their very first art history survey courses. We saw elderly couples wearing comfortable shoes, sweater vests and blazers who in their retirement rediscovered the leisure necessary to truly enjoy art and who made up the bulk of the guided tours. From them I made a mental note to enjoy my old age. We heard German, French, Italian, Korean, and of course Chinese being spoken around every bend, and marveled at various sculptures and the shape of Robert Irwin’s Zen.
|According to the docent this is a puzzle to tickle the garden goer’s 6th sense: spirituality.|
After the garden we went to see the art, though we skipped the current exhibition of Renaissance art. Not my favorite. I took them straight past the most crowded room where Van Gogh’s Irises were being photographed into oblivion and into a darker room in the corner, where light seemed almost unwelcome. There, we saw Degas’ “The Star,” and Lautrec’s “The Model Resting.”
|The Star or Dancer Taking a Bow, Edgar Degas 1877|
|The Model Resting Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 1889|
Both paintings gave me something to think about. I love the first but was drawn like a magnet to the latter, for reasons I can’t quite place.
We left at an hour or so before sundown. Emerging from the West Pavilion we were met with the following view.
|Photo by Very Highbrow on Instagram.|
Taking the tram back down to the parking structure my mother, aunt and grandmother looked tired from walking and squinting at both the sun and the tiny details of a hundred paintings, but they were happy.
“What a wonderful day you’ve given us,” my aunt cooed, and I could only nod in assent. Not because I gave them anything, but because there were places like this, filled with beautiful art and surrounded by glorious sun-kissed vistas to which I could bring them.