Reflections: Davide Gasparotto on Vilelm Hammershøi

We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, curator Davide Gasparotto reminisces on his days as a student through Vilelm Hammershøi’s Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25. To learn more about this work, visit: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/332549/.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.


Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.
DAVIDE GASPAROTTO: I am Davide Gasparotto, Senior Curator of Paintings at the Getty Museum.
The last seven months represented in many ways an unprecedented experience. But this situation has made me think about the time when I was a student at the University almost thirty years ago. While preparing for an exam, I used to spend all day at home at my desk for several weeks, reading or writing, and each day looked more or less the same as the previous one.
Now I am again secluded for most of the day in one room, this time in our small apartment in Santa Monica. And I often think to a beautiful, mesmerizing painting by Danish painter Vilelm Hammershøi, who is sometimes labelled as the modern Vermeer.
Hammershøi is renowned for his meditative interior scenes, and this depiction of his apartment and studio in Copenhagen is among the most enigmatic and compelling of these. The sparsely furnished interior features only an artist’s easel, a small side table visible through a half-open doorway, and a gilt-framed engraving hung high on the wall, perhaps to protect it from direct sunlight. For me the real protagonist of the work is indeed the cool, Nordic sunlight entering from unseen windows which casts large, geometric patches on the walls and the floor. I love the sober mood of the picture, where the impression of emptiness and silence is conveyed through a restrained palette, dominated by harmonious hues of grey.
My room, now filled with books and boxes with files that I brought from the museum, is not as empty as Hammershøi’s apartment, and often I have to keep the blinds closed to prevent the bright California sunlight to enter, making the space too warm and impossible to look at the screen of my laptop. If for Hammershøi the almost obsessive depiction of his apartment encompassed a research on the meaning of the act of painting itself, in the last few months my room became the center of my life and a solitary space devoted to reflection and research. But it became also the place of nostalgia, especially when I think to the galleries where the painting is usually hanging, which are now empty, hoping that I can go back soon and enjoy again the museum with visitors, friends, and colleagues.
CUNO: To view Vilhelm Hammershøi’s Interior with an Easel, Bredgade 25, made in Denmark around 1912, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection.

Egyptologists’ Notebooks

“The idea of a kind of intact tomb, at a certain moment where the archaeologist breaks through the door and lifts up a lamp to reveal the glint of gold everywhere. That’s become the defining moment for archaeology.”

What do we know about the people who explored and studied Egypt’s ancient civilizations? The notebooks of well-known figures such as Howard Carter, who unearthed King Tut’s tomb in 1919 and created stunning, detailed renderings of it, reveal how Europeans have tried for centuries to unravel the mysteries of Egypt’s ancient languages, cultures, rituals, and monuments. The history of the exploration of Egypt tells not only of our drive to understand the ancient world, but also the political machinations and contests that motivated such exploration.

Chris Naunton’s new book, Egyptologists’ Notebooks: The Golden Age of Nile Exploration in Words, Pictures, Plans, and Letters, uses the often-beautiful records of early explorers and archaeologists from the 17th through 20th centuries to give insight into their discoveries. In this episode, Naunton discusses some of the key figures in Egyptology, highlighting their contributions to the field and to our contemporary understanding of ancient Egypt. 

For images, transcripts, and more, visit getty.edu/podcasts.

Reflections: Erin Fussell on the Dyke of Your Dreams Dance

We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, Erin Fussell longs to “cut a rug” again as she looks at photographs from the 1978 “Dyke of Your Dreams” dance at the Women’s Building. To learn more about this event, visit: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/2017m43_6d9d703f54c264dc247ef2511a82bd4d.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.


Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.

ERIN FUSSELL: Hi, I’m Erin Fussell and I work in digital preservation at the Getty Research Institute. I’m also an artist and I need a lot of solitude in general in my life to think, process, and reflect in order to create. But this much alone time in my apartment during the pandemic has felt kind of insane! And I’ve really missed going out.

So, I’ve been thinking about this great series of photographs from the Los Angeles Woman’s Building records collection that I recently digitized. This particular photo set documented a Valentine’s day event in 1978 called “Dyke of Your Dreams” that turned a derogatory term directed at lesbian women on its head and made it empowering instead.

These images show women playing music, doing a go-go-type dance number, hamming it up for the camera, being sassy, sexy, cool. They look like they had so much fun together that night.

The event took place at the Los Angeles Woman’s Building that was located on North Spring Street downtown. The building housed a collective of artists and organizations centered around feminism with a number of different spaces like a cafe, a bookstore, studios, and a gallery. They hosted a bunch of different events like classes, exhibitions, concerts, and conferences.

But the tensions that arose within the feminist movement as a whole also seem to have played out at the Woman’s Building. There were issues of power dynamics and egos, issues of how feminism didn’t successfully address race or class. And they did not agree on what does or does not define what being a feminist means.

However, what struck me with these photographs is that this event had a looser vibe than other ones I saw documented in the collection. Maybe because it wasn’t an educational experience—it was a party. And the title of the event clearly makes lesbian love the theme. While I can’t know exactly what that meant to them at the time, I do know that lesbian events were not typical which makes them revolutionary to proudly host this one. And lastly, whatever their identities were, they came together that night to celebrate love for Valentine’s day.

“Dyke of Your Dreams” happened in the same month and year that my parents eloped in Las Vegas–February 1978–and they’re still together after all of these years. It makes me think about how cultivating love in our lives allows us to value each other because of our differences, fight for equality, and find connection in our shared humanity.

It also makes me miss my friends and family scattered all over the world more than I usually do. And I think about how much I look forward to the time when we can all get together again to let our hair down and cut a rug.

CUNO: To view this series of photographs from the Woman’s Building event “Dyke of Your Dreams,” taken in Los Angeles in 1978, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on primo.getty.edu. 

Assyrian Reliefs Tell the Story of an Empire

“The reliefs show people being impaled on spikes and the enemy being decapitated and sometimes flayed alive. I mean it’s absolutely brutal, and it was intended to intimidate.”

With a powerful empire centered on the Tigris River—today in northern Iraq—the Assyrians were one of the great and formative cultures of the ancient world. They used their military might to conquer and control an extensive territory, which at its peak in the seventh century BCE reached from Syria in the West into Turkey and Iran in the North. Today, much is known about Assyrian culture because of the sheer number of texts and narrative artworks they left behind. In particular, their shallow relief sculptures depict nuanced portrayals of battles, mythology, and court life. These stone reliefs decorated both public and private spaces in Assyrian palaces. Their detail and expressiveness make them among the most beautiful and important works of ancient art that exist today.

In this episode, Getty Museum director Timothy Potts discusses Assyrian culture and its masterful relief sculptures. A selection of these sculptures is on loan from the British Museum to the Getty Villa through September 2022 and will be on view when the Museum reopens to the public in 2021.

For images, transcripts, and more, visit getty.edu/podcasts.

Reflections: Amanda Berman on a Pair of Decorative Groups

We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, Amanda Berman considers how studying a set of eighteenth-century French porcelain sculptures reveals hidden racism and what that might mean for us today. To learn more about this artwork, visit: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/5617.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.


Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.

AMANDA BERMAN: I’m Amanda Berman, and I’m a curator of sculpture and decorative arts. While following news on the pandemic, I’ve been struck by stories of the targeted harassment of Chinese people and the boycotts and vandalization of Chinese-owned businesses. Many of my friends have reacted with shock and outrage, asking, “How could this happen here?” This question got me thinking about the subtle, less obvious forms of racism that foster and support the overtly racist behavior. And it reminded me of these “decorative groups” in the Getty’s collection.

They were constructed in the mid-1700s in France. I say constructed because they’re made up of different elements that did not start off life together. Each one is a combination of a few Chinese porcelain objects made after the mid-1600s—figures of boys wearing Qing dynasty tunics and trousers, rocks, spheres, and lions. These porcelain items were imported to France, where a bronze caster combined them on gilt-bronze bases and added French porcelain flowers. So, the result is this invented thing which uses Chinese elements to create a European decorative item. They’re beautiful pieces, but knowing how they were made makes me a little uncomfortable. It’s clear the European craftsman didn’t understand the cultural origins of the original porcelain pieces, and they had no problem with decontextualizing these objects to turn them into something that played on stereotypes.

These decorative groups fit into a larger category of art from this time that featured Asian-inspired themes, to put it generously. There were furnishings and other objects that used Chinese materials in the construction of a European-designed piece, like these objects. And then there were objects created entirely in Europe, with European materials, made to look vaguely Asian or decorated with stereotypically Asian imagery like pagodas and people in kimonos. European craftspeople drew on styles from Persia to Japan, mixing and matching to create designs that seem strange and culturally insensitive today.

Racist ideas about Asian people weren’t new in 18th century Europe. But increasing trade with Asia brought about a new fascination with Asian cultures and a rise in this Asian-inspired decorative style. This created and reinforced the idea of Asians as “other”—people who were not mainstream or didn’t fully belong. Exoticizing cultures, conflating them, and disregarding their distinct histories stereotypes and dehumanizes people from those cultures.

So I’ve been thinking about how these 18th century French objects relate to the question of how anti-Chinese racism can happen here. This obsession with Asian aesthetics, seen in this pair, is akin to cultural appropriation now. And I see a similar subtle racism in the model minority myth—another example of how Asians in America are considered not fully American, regardless of how many generations have lived here. Not to mention the long history of specifically anti-Chinese racism in US immigration laws.

Subtle racism can hide behind the idea of “cultural appreciation,” but in reality, this creates an atmosphere that supports and encourages acts of overt racism. That’s why it can be just as damaging as racist vandalism or racial slurs. This decorative pair reminds me of the continuous presence of these more hidden forms of racism. That’s why it’s important to study these artworks and understand their contexts, not just appreciate them aesthetically.

CUNO: To view this porcelain Pair of Decorative Groups, composed in France about 1740-1745 from pieces dating from about 1662–1740, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collections.

Beirut after the Explosion

“The fifteen years of civil war did not produce as much damage as the few seconds did on August 4th.”

On the evening of August 4, 2020, Beirut—the capital of Lebanon and one of the oldest cities in the world—experienced a devastating explosion, when more than two and a half tons of ammonium nitrate detonated at its port on the Mediterranean Sea. The explosion was felt across the region, killing nearly two hundred and injuring and displacing thousands more, many of whom were already struggling to cope with the effects of a global pandemic and economic crisis. Settlement in Beirut dates to the Bronze Age, and this long history has made the city a vibrant cultural center for thousands of years. The immense destruction caused by the recent explosion threatens not only Beirut’s built cultural heritage but also its social fabric. 

In this episode, Lebanese architect Fares el-Dahdah discusses the crisis in Beirut, the dangers facing people, communities, and buildings, and the innovative responses underway. El-Dahdah is a professor of architecture and director of the Humanities Research Center at Rice University, Houston, Texas. He is currently living in Beirut. 

For images, transcripts, and more, visit getty.edu/podcasts.

Reflections: Anna Sapenuk on a Hydra Hydria

We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, educator Anna Sapenuk finds parallels in Herakles and Iolaos’s fight against the Hydra and our global battle against the coronavirus. To learn more about this artwork, visit: https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/10600/.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.

ANNA SAPENUK: Hello my name is Anna Sapenuk, and I’m an educator at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. Lately, I’ve been thinking how relevant certain works of art are to the struggle of the coronavirus and us battling this multi-dimensional monster, so to speak. The work of art that I have in mind is this really wonderful hydria or water jug from the Getty Villa. It is one of my favorite pieces there.

And the star of the show on this hydria is this Hydra or watersnake, this mythical watersnake, that is nine headed. And in antiquity, it was known to kill people, even with the smell coming from it.

And on the hydria itself, the watersnake is coiling its body and its nine heads are emerging out of it, ready to strike. In this work of art, not only the watersnake is shown, but also there are two characters that are fighting with it. Those two figures are those of Herakles and his nephew Iolaos. And of course, you know, Herakles, he’s a super strong mythological figure, and what he’s doing is he’s raising his club to take off one of Hydra’s heads. And Iolaos, his nephew, kind of his henchmen, he has a sickle to cut one of the heads of the Hydra.

But the issue of the Hydra, much like the issue that we have with the coronavirus, is that, you know, if you cut one of his head, two heads grow in its place. So it’s a very complex problem that they’re dealing with and that we’re dealing with today.

So they come up with a really smart solution to this problem. There’s actually a flame, and they use the heat from the flame to cauterize where the heads were chopped off so that new heads don’t grow in its place.
And it’s just immediately so connected, I feel, to our struggle with the coronavirus that is also a many-headed monster, in many ways, and we need so many different approaches to battle with it. Like we have to continue social distancing, and wear masks, and the vaccine is still in development.

These two heroes, Herakles and Iolaos, end up defeating the Hydra, and I hope that the same can be said for us and our fight with the coronavirus. I hope that we find those solutions that we’re seeking, and that we defeat this many-headed monster in our own right.

CUNO: To view this hydria, or water jug, featuring Herakles and Iolaos slaying the Hydra, made in Etruria around 520 to 510 BCE, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection.

The Legacies of Pliny the Elder and Younger

“I think we can all empathize with someone who’s like a son, or in this case, an adopted son, trying to kind of make his own mark and escape the shadow of his father, and leave something on the world of his own.”

In the year 79 CE, Pliny the Elder set out to investigate a large cloud of ash rising in the sky above the Bay of Naples. It was the eruption of Vesuvius, and Pliny did not survive. A trailblazing naturalist, he is best remembered today for his multivolume encyclopedia Natural History, and we are able to retrace his final hours thanks to a vivid account by his nephew, Pliny the Younger. Inspired by his beloved uncle, the young Pliny became a lawyer, senator, poet, and representative of the emperor. His published letters are fascinating reflections on life and politics in the Roman Empire.

In this episode, Daisy Dunn, classicist and author of The Shadow of Vesuvius: A Life of Pliny,and Kenneth Lapatin, curator of antiquities at the Getty Museum, discuss the two Plinys and their profound impact on our understanding of ancient Rome.

For images, transcripts, and more, visit getty.edu/podcasts.

Reflections: Carolyn Peter on Hippolyte Bayard

We’ve asked members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. These recordings feature stories related to our daily lives.

This week, Carolyn Peter considers how gardening is like early photography—and how both involve a little bit of wonder. To learn more about this artwork, visit: www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/64876/.

Over the next few weeks, look for new recordings every other Tuesday.


Transcript

JAMES CUNO: Hi, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. In a new podcast feature, we’re asking members of the Getty community to share short reflections on works of art they’re thinking about right now. We’ll be releasing new recordings every other Tuesday. I hope you’ll find these stories about our daily lives—from laundry on the line to a dog at a scholar’s feet—thought provoking, illuminating, and entertaining.

CAROLYN PETER: I’m Carolyn Peter, curatorial assistant in the Department of Photographs at the Getty Museum.

While sheltering at home, I have been thinking about Hippolyte Bayard’s self-portraits in the garden. Bayard was a 19th-century inventor of photography; he had no set instructions to follow for making a photograph. He had to be in tune with his environment. To make an image, he collaborated with the sun, photo-sensitive chemicals, thin sheets of writing paper, his lens, and his subjects.

Like Bayard, I have been paying attention to the shifting patterns of light through the day and the seasons. I am lucky enough to have an outdoor space just beyond my back door. My husband and I planted a vegetable garden early on, just before the stay at home orders came. Over the past few months, we have been watching things grow.

To create a garden, we collaborated with the sun, as well as the soil, water, nutrients, seeds, insects, and other creatures. Both ventures require patience and an openness to risk. We had a vision, but we humbly had to leave much up to nature.

Bayard placed himself in the garden for his self-portraits because natural light was a necessity for photography in the 1840s, but also because it was one of his favorite places. He too loved gardening. It was in his blood. His father was renowned for his peaches. A legend tells of how he imprinted his initial “B” on peaches by placing cut paper over peaches as they were ripening on the tree. It is said this is how Bayard first learned about the sun’s power to imprint and eventually led to his photographic experiments.

In one of Bayard’s self-portraits, he leans on a wooden cask, perhaps a nineteenth-century version of a rain barrel. He is surrounded by familiar gardening tools: a watering can, flower pots, a ladder, and a trellis. I can’t see his feet under the foliage. It as if he has sprouted out from the earth. I identify with this feeling of connectedness to a place. Returning to my garden day after day, I notice the minute changes: the plants’ growth, the holes left in leaves by hungry insects, the thirsty soil.  

Bayard’s self-portraits were some the first photographs of human beings ever made. Seeing an image of himself emerge on the paper must have been magical. Such a revolution took place in the quiet chamber of Bayard’s camera in the middle of his garden. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, so much is happening in the stillness of my garden. Seeing a passion fruit start from a bud, transform into a space-age flower, then into a green orb that turns a deep reddish purple fills me with wonder. I find great comfort in cradling a warm tomato in my hand, monitoring a peach on my windowsill as it ripens with a paper letter “C” pinned to it, and watching the sun continuing on its steady course through the sky.

CUNO: To view Hippolyte Bayard’s Self-Portrait in the Garden, made in Paris, France, around 1847, click the link in this episode’s description or look for it on getty.edu/art/collection.

Michelangelo’s Drawings: Mind of the Master

“You have all these incredibly powerful people across Italy, all writing to Michelangelo and saying, ‘Please, please, pretty please, can I have one of your drawings?’ And, you know, Michelangelo never obliged them.”

Michelangelo is among the most influential and impressive artists of the Italian High Renaissance. His lifelike sculptures and powerful paintings are some of the most recognizable works in Western art history. He also drew prolifically, making sketch after sketch of figures in slightly varying poses, focusing on form and gesture. However, remarkably few of these drawings remain today, many of them burned by the artist himself, others lost or damaged over the centuries. 

A recent exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Michelangelo: Mind of the Master, brought together more than two dozen of Michelangelo’s surviving drawings—including designs for the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment—to shed light on the artist’s creativity and working method. In this episode, co-curators of this exhibition, Julian Brooks and Edina Adam, discuss the master and what we can learn from his works on paper. 

For images, transcripts, and more, visit getty.edu/podcasts.