Behind the Scenes, Getty Research Institute

Study and Play for Visiting Scholars at the Getty Research Institute

Getty Research Institute visiting scholars on the GRI's West Terrace

Getty Research Institute visiting scholars on the GRI's West Terrace

Each year, the Getty Research Institute invites scholars and artists to work on projects that go hand in hand with a chosen theme. This year’s theme is The Display of Art, a broad, deep topic examining how ideas and objects are brought together to create meanings.

Every scholar comes to the Getty with an individual project, which he or she explores through the Getty’s library and collections at the Center and the Villa. Scholars come from around the world—including, this year, from China, Colombia, and Kazakhstan. Some stay for a few months, others for the full academic year, from October to June.

The topics are as varied as the scholars themselves: spectatorship and Chinese cinema, painting and poetry in the age of Augustus, and the political and religious use of monumental sculpture in early imperial China, just to name three.

As an intern at the Getty Research Institute, one of my tasks was helping staff get ready for the new arrivals. When they came, it was as though an international summit had hit the GRI! I was amazed by the multiple conversations in French, Italian, German, and languages beyond, making English the minority. My two years of Italian at UCLA were going to come in handy! And not only was there an exchange of language, but art, books, and even recipes were passed around.

What is it like for the scholars? I spoke to Isabelle Flour, a doctoral candidate at the Sorbonne in Paris, who will be staying with us until June 2011. Her research examines the reproduction of architecture in museums, the display of ornament, and period rooms. Not only is this Isabelle’s first time at the Getty, it’s her first visit to California. She was excited to come here, amazed by the depth of the scholarly resources available in the GRI’s library and special collections, and delighted by how welcoming and friendly everyone has been. In addition to her research, she’s had a great time exploring the Getty Center, learning about her fellow scholars, and going on great adventures throughout California.

Yes, the scholars are not only diving into art and research, but are also experiencing what California has to offer. They’ve visited Hearst Castle, hiked Temescal Canyon, and toured downtown Los Angeles.

Getty Research Institute visiting scholars explore downtown L.A. and Walt Disney Concert Hall

Scholars explore downtown L.A. and Walt Disney Concert Hall

Scholars explore downtown L.A. and Walt Disney Concert Hall

The GRI Scholars engage directly with their peers, Getty colleagues, and invited guests in special presentations of their research throughout the year. I’m looking forward to hearing from this entire interesting and diverse group, learning as much as possible about their research projects, interesting stories about where they come from, and maybe even polishing my Italian!

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.

      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”


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