Art, Behind the Scenes, Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

See the Decorative Arts from a New Angle

Do artworks have an inner life? You might think so when you visit a new exhibition opening today at the Getty Center. The Life of Art: Context, Collecting, and Display presents the life stories of four objects made to serve beauty and function, offering you the chance to examine them closely to understand how they were made, how they’ve been used, and what’s happened to them over time.

Today this silver fountain is a museum object, but 300 years ago it did dirty work washing used tableware. Mounted on a plexiglass panel to reveal its back, a gilt-bronze wall light reveals clues about its past: breaks and repairs, its time in the rooms of a certain French queen, and what it must have been like to put its 14 pieces together (take stem A, now insert panel B…no wait…).

Interactive features on iPads in the galleries, as well as online and in a free iPad app, offer a touchable tour with more secrets about each object, encouraging you to explore in greater depth.

The four pieces are presented under dramatic lighting and at unexpected angles (see the photos above, taken from a motorized lift by one of our intrepid preparators)—very different from the more traditional display in the galleries. They’re also placed at a much lower height than usual, so you can pull up a chair and—is chat the right word? I think it is.

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      ROSE

      This milky pink boomed into popularity because of a marketing ploy, a mistress, and its ambiguous origins.

      In an effort to compete with the renowned Meissen porcelain factory, the French Sèvres manufactory recruited the glamorous Madame de Pompadour (mistress to King Louis XV). Like a smart sponsorship deal, Sèvres gave her all the porcelain she requested. 

      Introduced in 1757, this rich pink exploded on the scene thanks to favoritism by Madame Pompadour herself. 

      The glaze itself had a weird history. To the Europeans it looked Chinese, and to the Chinese it was European. It was made based on a secret 17th-century glassmaker’s technique, involving mixing glass with flecks of gold.

      For more on colors and their often surprising histories, check out The Brilliant History of Color in Art.

      12/19/14

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