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…).
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.