On Bullshit and The Getty

Michael Bierut's excellent post on design bullshit has gotten a lot of attention. He starts by quoting the artist/gardner Robert Irwin, who hilariously calls bullshit on the man who would be king Of the Getty hill, architect Richard Meier, in a Getty-produced documentary, Concert of Wills. It's a startling moment in what's otherwise a typically institution-stroking hagiography of the "The travertine selected was from Michelangelo's quarry" variety.

If it's bullshit Irwin, wanted, Meier apparently thought, it's bullshit he got. To demarcate where the architect's work stops and the flaky artist's landscaping starts, Meier created what is essentially a travertine toilet bowl to empty the placid fountains of his pristine, self-conscious Acropolis. It literally sounds like a giant is taking a pee. Forever.

It's an at-once hilarious and unbelievably petty gesture. [And as I type this, I'd be even happier to find out the fountain was actually Irwin's backhanded joke. As if he turned Meier's bullshit into the fertilizer for his garden.] As it is, Irwin's baroque landscape can't defuse the rest of the Getty's overbearing sense of self-importance.

Don't get me wrong, I like it fine, and there's some hand-rubbed plaster on some of those gallery walls I'd love to have myself. But I've always felt the ratio of building to art--of building to life--seemed wildly out of whack there.

It doesn't help, of course, that on my first visit, I watched someone collapse in the main rotunda. With lightning efficiency, security guards hustled the portly man out of sight. They laid him on the ground behind one of the large stone benches at the entryway and radioed around frantically, while the man's companions tried reviving him. Transfixed, I watched the scene for nearly 20 minutes as a circle of guards shielded the man--who turned out to have a heart condition--from view until the ambulan--oh, wait, that's not an ambulance, that's a Getty security van they're loading him into. They're not letting the ambulance up the hill, they're shuttling him down to it.

I made a note to myself then not to die in a mausoleum. Well. That's a cheery way to start the day. Have a great weekend!

Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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first published: May 14, 2005.

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