Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bizarre Review Of New Getty Villa In New York Times!

First of all, appropriate thanks and sacrificial offerings should be tendered to all the pertinent Gods now that Christopher Hawthorne writes for the LA Times after Nicolai Ouroussoff shipped himself off to New York and the pages of the NYT where he is a much better fit. And in this post I shall be reviewing NOT the new Getty Museum (which I have not seen), but the NYT's review of that building and the internal inconsistencies contained within that review; a review of the LAT's review of the building will follow tomorrow.

OK - now that all the proper deities have been correctly assuaged, here are some assorted bits and pieces of Nicki's review of the Getty Villa's addition that are somewhat rearranged for maximum rhetorical impact:

The complex, designed by Machado & Silvetti Associates of Boston, is genuinely an exquisite work of architecture. Reconfigured as an elaborate architectural narrative, it approaches the historical past with the scholarly attention normally reserved for real ancient ruins.... Obviously a high architectural I.Q. is operating here...

His main point seems to be that the new addition is exquisite, scholarly, sophisticated. He then says... this is horrible, horrible news.

The gaudy beauty of the old Getty was its underlying message: the vision of a dying oilman thumbing his nose at the pretensions of the East Coast art establishment. By comparison, the newly expanded villa strives for Old World respectability. And in wrapping the old villa in the aura of good taste, it comes close to embalming it.

He then (seemingly) says he would only approve of this project if it were a whole lot more gaudy and a whole lot more tacky - and with none of that always dreaded... aura of good taste!

And if anyone out there really truly, honestly believes he really means that - please clap your hands!

All finished? OK. Well, thank God this ain't a production of Peter Pan or poor ole Tinker Bell would be goner.

Nicki's message of the day seems to be that beauty is fine, in its place - but if it's in LA - it better be some god damned gaudy beauty!

As the city matures and its civic leaders strive to project the sophistication of older, more established counterparts, that sense of cultural independence has begun to fade. And this threatens to tamp down the spirit that made Los Angeles one of the nation's most original architectural inventions.

Hmmm... the concept that LA has any real sophistication, well, actually, no, scratch that - real sophistication is not option. Make that... LA even 'projecting'... any sophistication... is - quite clearly, in his eyes - a very bad (and also, very impossible) concept.

Nothing condescending here!


... J. Paul Getty scorned (hiring star contemporary architects), and that bound his villa, in an odd way, to the visions of early Modernists like Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra. Each of them embraced the uniquely American notion that all fantasies are possible here, and that we are free to tear up our roots and reinvent ourselves when we see fit.

'Odd' doesn't even begin to describe that paragraph. Building classically styled buildings is uniquely American? It constitutes tearing up one's roots? Has he ever noticed what actually gets built in this country - or ever heard of Prince Charles?

By comparison, the new Getty Villa, for all its refinement, is an expression of a culture more interested in validation than freedom. The fun is gone.

OK, after that stunning paraphrase of the lyrics to the Beach Boys' classic - Fun, Fun, Fun - for his next number, Nicki (radically) redefines the word... credibility... by changing horses in mid-stream - while blindfolded and with both hands tied behind his back - as he now (seemingly) attacks the new architects for not modifying the old villa!

Opened in 1974, the original Malibu villa is a re-creation of the Roman Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, which is thought to have been a seafront retreat for Julius Caesar's father-in-law. The builders took considerable liberties: the villa's second floor, for example, was not original, and the underground parking was more suburban than Roman in inspiration.

Rather than correct those details, the architects chose to treat the villa as a precious historic bauble.

Ooooh. There goes my headache again. Nicki's now saying they should have corrected those liberties? Nicki now thinks keeping the 'k' in kitsch is now a bad thing?

Where're those g-damn pills?

I need them... NOW!

So, after power gulping down two pills from my ever handy (albeit, rapidly vanishing) Excedrin stash, I climb into my deep-diving suit - put its settings on deep you know what - and attempt to fathom that logic.

But - wait! News flash! Suddenly - in the very next sentence - the sophistication of the addition is now suddenly a good thing!

The high point of the addition is a new entry sequence that begins at the concrete parking structure and then winds its way up along a ridge along one side of the villa before descending to a 450-seat outdoor Roman theater. The path, part of an elaborate system of retaining walls that protects the villa from the surrounding hills, allows you to admire the villa from various angles.

The museum's interior has also been carefully tweaked. A skylight has been punched through the roof of the atrium lobby, opening it up to the sun. A bronze staircase now sweeps up to the second floor. Windows have been added in some of the galleries to bring in natural light. And the outer peristyle garden, once the main entry point for the museum, has been restored to its original splendor, so visitors can once again take a contemplative stroll along its reflecting pool.

Well, so maybe sophistication really isn't all that bad a thing!! Even if we hapless citizens of LA are only capable of ... projecting it!

Historical references pile up along the way. The horizontal strata of stone and concrete evoke an excavation site; the heavy travertine blocks suggest the more abstract travertine panels at the Getty Center.

The exquisite line of a bronze rail that draws the eye up along the entry pavilion's staircase is inspired by Carlo Scarpa's postwar renovations of old Italian palazzos.

Keeps getting better and better!

But after a while, the references become exhausting. The idiosyncratic old villa was a West Coast counterpart to Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Barnes Foundation near Philadelphia - deeply eccentric visions all. The new Getty is more like a clever academic exercise.

Wait a second... everything quoted so far has been about how well each historic reference works. So how can it now become... exhausting? How can excellent architecture - and there is not a single aspect of the architecture he has yet found disfavor with - make the entire Getty project a clever academic exercise - when he does not identify even one detail that is an academic exercise, clever or otherwise?

As for the 'exhausting' part - how many people compile their own personal mental check lists of historic and cultural reference points as they walk about the grounds of a museum?

Scarpa? Check! Excavation site? Check! Travertine from the identical quarry as the Getty Center? Check!

But guess what! Nicki's right! I am now exhausted!

And just wait until The Gutter's plagiarism attack squad gets their paws on M & S's stealing from Scapra's moldering body!

So now we - finally, nearing the article's end - almost at the very end - get to the very few items he does have specific and actually quantified problems with.

And guess what?

None of them has anything to do with sophistication or historical references. Not one!

In fact - Nicki's problems are with with everything that is not sophisticated and historically accurate! His only stated problems seem to be with the scale of the project:

This sense is compounded by the scale of the addition. A restaurant with outdoor seating under a modern take on a classical canopy looms above the villa to the north. Just beyond, additional structures are scattered over the side of the hill: a fountain court, a 250-seat indoor theater and office buildings.

I might add the 'This sense' refers back to the historic reference points in the previous paragraphs. But exactly how well done historical reference points are 'compounded' by office buildings and a restaurant... is a massive Spruce Goose-sized flight of rhetorical fancy he - mercifully - does not even attempt to get off the ground. He just ... continues...

Like the main Getty complex in Brentwood, the ensemble feels like a corporate retreat, set at a slight remove from the city and the car culture that is at its heart. Its sense of complacency weighs on you.

So... a rural Roman villa might work better sitting on... Pico Boulevard? Maybe combined with a drive through restaurant (complete with drive-though vomitorium) so it can better become a part of our car culture?

Exactly how a complex he attacks for being too archaeologically correct and too sophisticated, now suddenly become too much of a corporate retreat? How can he say this compound looks like a 'corporate retreat' when another critic (who coincidentally also writes for the New York Times) calls the exact same compound, "an exquisite work of architecture." Particularly when the word 'exquisite' means... painfully beautiful, delicate, elegant, refined, dainty... and all the other usual words I know I would never use to describe a corporate retreat.

Oh - but, wait a second - that's what Nicki said!

The complex, designed by Machado & Silvetti Associates of Boston, is genuinely an exquisite work of architecture.

Right at the start of this article! I guess he was just too exhausted from contemplating all those historically correct architectural references he loved so much to remember what he had said in the third paragraph!

But what a prince of a guy! Two totally opposing viewpoints for the price of just one article! And then there's that extra added bonus! His revelation of the Getty Center's biggest secret - that invisible but heavy sense of complacency that weighs down on all who visit it.

And he is just so correct on this!

I know any time I am at the Getty Center, I can barely drag my poor old cowboy body around so weighted down am I by the place's complacency! And any time I find a wrestler who needs to make weight, I say - get yourself up to the Getty and and walk around!

Just suck up all that heavy complacency - and watch those pounds sweat off!

And, again, yes, I, of course fully (and, alas, increasingly, painfully as I wait for nowhere near instant enough pain relief to kick in) realize that if the new addition had been a whole lot more wonderfully gaudy and tacky - then Nicki would have (of course!) attacked it for being way too gaudy and too tacky!

Seriously - can anyone at all doubt that?

So before I further contemplate any of this, I better take two more two pills... and put in a rush order for an IV unit in my office.

This is because as a final bonus to his readers - besides his stunning Janus-like POV (alas, not MOS, I mean, MOP) on the addition, Sir Oafs-A-Lot also tries to deliver a few misguided arrows haphazardly flung at various LA targets. But I shall leave that for my next post - which shall be coming after my next cycle of self-administered medication. And, also forthcoming, will be my review of the LAT's review by Christopher Hawthorne.

So Stay Tuned!

Same Cowboy Channel!

Same Cowboy Time!

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