With my dad and brother at one of our more usual haunts—a Cal-USC game. (I'm at center, Dad to the right.)
When I mentioned to a colleague that my father was visiting the Getty for the first time, she turned to him and asked the obvious question: “So, what do you think?” In a rare moment, my father was lost for words. Stopping to take in his surroundings, he replied, “I am very impressed.” That was the moment that sealed the deal.
This summer I was fortunate enough to participate in the Getty Foundation’s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship Program, interning in the Department of Photographs at the Getty Museum. One of the summer's greatest highlights was the opportunity to invite my father to the exhibition opening for Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit
. The night was particularly memorable for me not just because it was the first time we'd ever gone to a museum together, but also because it was the first time I could properly show him the world where I’ve found community and sense of purpose.
Unfolding within the Frame
From the moment we hopped on board the shuttle up the Getty Center hill, my dad's fixedly cool demeanor disappeared, and in its place surfaced a beaming curiosity. The Center’s sheer scale, its mélange of white and travertine surfaces, and the rigorous repetition of architect Richard Meier’s thirty-inch grid amazed him. We had yet to enter a single gallery or walk beyond the Museum Entrance Hall, and already I knew he was struggling to process it all.
The bustling galleries afforded my father an opportunity to train his overstimulated mind on the work of Minor White and Ansel Adams, whose work was also on view that evening. We immersed ourselves in the expansive worlds captured in in Adams’s prints
. My father remarked that he could sense the chill in the air just by looking at them.
He began to tell me stories he’s never told me before—the first time he saw the redwoods as a child, a freezing winter night in Yosemite, and the time when I almost tumbled down a mountainside as a baby. Our discussion brought us closer to the work and to each other. Looking at Adams's photographs now, I can’t help but see them differently. The images my father saw and the stories he described unfold within the picture frame each time I look at one.
The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York, negative October 1957; print 1960. Gelatin silver print, 9 5/8 x 9 7/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Purchased in part with funds provided by Daniel Greenberg, Susan Steinhauser, and the Greenberg Foundation, 2013.44.1. Reproduced with permission of the Minor White Archive, Princeton University Art Museum. © Trustees of Princeton University
Fittingly, the work of Minor White is also thoroughly engaged with the notion of “seeing differently.” Throughout the exhibit, I could see my father examining and reexamining White’s pictures as he drew in closer to inspect each detail and work on to the next. While it wouldn't have taken long for my father to spot the allusions to eastern and western religions, sexuality, and mortality present in White’s work, I know he gained an enormous respect for the work curators do in making an artist’s interests and concerns clear to the audience.
Speaking to Paul Martineau, the curator of the show and my supervisor this summer, my father began to see the lengths curators go to honor an artist’s legacy, the exciting challenges they face, and the consideration put into every decision. He began to see what inspires and motivates me.
As we ended the night near the South Promontory overlooking L.A., I asked my father the same question my colleague had asked him earlier: What did he think?
For the second time that night, he stood in silence. Washed in the vivid hues of the golden hour, the view of the Los Angeles basin--a region has he has known his whole life--presented itself anew. Stopping to take in his surroundings, he replied, “I am very impressed and proud.” In several ways, our night at the museum together allowed us see at things differently. He saw me not just as his child, but also as working adult pursuing a meaningful career. And I saw in him childlike enthusiasm seldom on public display.