The Recovery and Conservation of a Stolen de Kooning
“We hear the security guards talking to one another on the walkie-talkie, saying that there’s a man on the line saying that he has a stolen painting. And I wish somebody could’ve seen us, because we just stopped our conversation and Jill’s eyes got big, and she said, ‘Oh, my gosh, are we gonna remember this moment for the rest of our lives.’”
On the day after Thanksgiving in 1985, two thieves casually entered the University of Arizona Museum of Art (UAMA). They strolled out minutes later with Willem de Kooning’s painting Woman-Ochre. Without security cameras or solid leads, the trail to find the stolen painting quickly went cold. In 2017, however, the artwork turned up in an unlikely place: a small antique shop in Silver City, New Mexico. After more than 30 years, the work was finally returned to the UAMA, but it was badly damaged, due to the way it was torn from its frame during the heist and how it was subsequently stored and handled. The UAMA turned to the Getty Museum and Conservation Institute to help conserve the painting.
In this episode, UAMA curator of exhibitions Olivia Miller and Getty Museum senior conservator of paintings Ulrich Birkmaier discuss Woman-Ochre’s theft, recovery, and conservation, as well as its place in de Kooning’s oeuvre and the UAMA’s collection. The treatment is still in progress, and the restored artwork is scheduled to be on view at the Getty Center from June 7 to August 28, 2022.
A Century of Change for Latin American Metropolises, 1830–1930
“The metropolis is not just the city; it’s the mother city. It has a fundamental role in defining the history of these countries that we discussed in the book.”
The period between 1830 and 1930 was one of global change, particularly in Latin America. Emerging from Spanish and Portuguese colonial rule at the start of the century, cities from Buenos Aires to Havana faced explosive population growth and rapid modernization, which reshaped the urban landscape and sociopolitical structures. These changes were captured triumphantly in photographs and film, planning maps, and theoretical treatises. However, the poor or disadvantaged were often erased from these records, and were often physically relocated to the outskirts of the urban core, reducing their visibility in cities.
In this episode, Getty Research Institute curators Idurre Alonso and Maristella Casciato discuss this consequential century of development for Latin American cities. Their research into this topic formed the basis of a 2017–18 exhibition at the GRI titled The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830–1930. The exhibition’s materials, most held in the GRI’s collections, have been expanded in the recent Getty Publications volume The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830–1930: Cityscapes, Photographs, Debates, edited by Alonso and Casciato.
“Everything was made of the most familiar objects. It could’ve been taken off a desk or a kitchen counter or something, and put into action. They were inert, but their meaning wasn’t. I thought to myself, this isn’t art; it’s better.”
In the early 1960s, artists from around the world practicing in wide-ranging disciplines—from music to dance, visual art to poetry—began to coalesce in a movement called Fluxus. Fluxus grew out of the absurdity of Dada, Surrealism, and Futurism, drawing inspiration from influential artists like Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. Although the movement ended in 1978 with the death of its founder, George Maciunas, its approach to artmaking continues to inspire artists today.
In this episode, art critic and Fluxus expert Peter Frank discusses the movement’s history and impact, sharing his personal engagement with Fluxus that began during his childhood in New York City. This conversation took place on the occasion of the Getty Research Institute’s exhibition Fluxus Means Change: Jean Brown’s Avant-Garde Archive, which is currently on view at the Getty Center through January 2, 2022.
“To really read into the fragment that you have in front of you and to imagine the rest of what was the whole text is really romantic and an enjoyment of tekagami viewing.”
The rise of tea drinking ceremonies during the Edo period (1615–1868) brought about another new cultural phenomenon: calligraphy albums. Called tekagami, or “mirror of hands,” these albums showcase calligraphy by 8th-century emperors, famed poets, and other illustrious figures from Japan’s past. The calligraphic samples are often fragmentary, containing a few lines of classical poetry, Buddhist sutras, or snippets from personal texts such as diaries and letters. These fragments gain meaning not only from their content and form, but, importantly, from their arrangement on and within the pages of tekagami. In March 2021 the Getty Research Institute gathered together scholars to discuss this unique art form in a colloquium titled “Tekagami as/and Fragments.”
In this episode, the colloquium’s organizers, Akiko Walley, the Maude I. Kerns Associate Professor of Japanese Art at the University of Oregon, Eugene, and Edward Kamens, the Sumitomo Professor of Japanese Studies at Yale University, discuss the origins of tekagami, its place in Japanese art history, and avenues for future research into this fascinating medium.
“You could easily say ‘I can’t believe Rubens held such sway deep into the 18th century in Latin America as a touchpoint. Wow. That’s profound.’ But that, to me, is much less important than rethinking fundamental categories of picture making.”
One of the biggest influences on art in the Spanish Americas from the 16th through 18th centuries was Peter Paul Rubens. Although the renowned Flemish artist never traveled to the Americas himself, missionaries, merchants, and colonizers flooded the region with prints of his work. These images became the basis for large religious paintings and sculptures, but the resulting works have long been written off as mere copies and have received little critical attention. In his new book Rubens in Repeat: The Logic of the Copy in Colonial Latin America, Aaron M. Hyman explores how artists, particularly in Peru and Mexico, expanded on Rubens’s designs, creating their own inventive compositions.
In this episode, Hyman discusses his new framework for understanding copies and improvisation in Spanish colonial art. He also explains how studying art in Latin America sheds new light on European works of the period. Hyman is an assistant professor of art history at Johns Hopkins University.
“When you pick an object up, not only do you begin to understand how it was made, it’s facture, the people who made it, but you can also, I think, begin to start to tell the story about the people whose hands it was in.”
Prominent Jewish banker and art collector Moise de Camondo settled in Paris in the 1870s and quickly began amassing the signifiers of wealth around him—a beautiful home, fine furniture, and artistic masterpieces. But after his only son, Nissim, was killed fighting for France in World War I, Moise decided to bequeath his house and its luxurious contents to the state in his son’s honor. The home became a museum, preserving the family’s name alongside the furnishings and art just as he had left them. Sadly, the anti-Semitism raging across Europe deeply impacted the museum and the Camondo family—Moise’s only surviving relatives were murdered at Auschwitz just a few years after the museum opened.
In Letters to Camondo, ceramicist and author Edmund de Waal retraces the story of Moise de Camondo through imaginary letters written to the collector. In this episode, de Waal discusses Camondo’s story, its intersections with de Waal’s own history, and the emotional weight that objects can carry.
“Photography, historically, has been used to pin people of color in a particular location to a particular identity or stereotype, and the artists in this exhibition work to unpin that.”
Photography is a uniquely accessible and flexible medium today, encompassing everything from cell-phone snapshots to large-format negatives, from formal studio sets to casual selfies. Nonetheless, photographs of people of color have historically played on negative stereotypes and fixed identities. In the exhibition Photo Flux: Unshuttering LA, 35 Los Angeles–based artists—primarily artists of color—shake up the field, highlighting their personal narratives, aesthetics, and identities. Curated by jill moniz, the exhibition also includes works by young artists who participated in the Getty Unshuttered program. Getty Unshuttered is an educational photo-sharing platform that teaches photography fundamentals, builds community, and encourages high school students to use the medium as a tool for self-expression and social change. It also offers resources for teachers.
In this episode, guest curator jill moniz discusses the ideas behind the exhibition Photo Flux and looks closely at some of its key works. Getty head of education Keishia Gu then delves into the three-year-old Getty Unshuttered program. Photo Flux: Unshuttering LA is on view at the Getty Center through October 10, 2021.
“He often said is that this was a garden not for the visitors. He was happy if visitors enjoyed it; it was a garden for the people who worked here, who every single day, would see the slight changes and would have a seasonal experience.”
The largest work of art at the Getty Center is located outside the galleries—the Central Garden, designed by artist Robert Irwin. The garden stretched Irwin’s understanding of what art could be; it is alive and changing with every passing moment. In the nearly 25 years since the garden opened in 1997, Getty’s gardeners and horticulturalists have worked tirelessly to execute Irwin’s original vision. This involves constantly evaluating the health of plants, whether the breeds are well suited to their locations, which plants have reached the end of their life, and how to manicure large plants to maintain a sense of openness.
First in this episode, Lawrence Weschler discusses artist Robert Irwin’s approach to art and the Central Garden. Weschler is the author of Getty Publications’ Robert Irwin Getty Garden, a series of conversations between the author and the artist. Next, Getty head of grounds and gardens Brian Houck and horticulturalist Jackie Flor walk through the garden, explaining the wide array of plantings and sculptural features as well as how the caretakers enact Irwin’s vision.
“For Blake, visionary art is not mysterious or fuzzy or soft. Visionary art is something which actually very precise and crisp.”
Painter, poet, draftsman, and printmaker William Blake was born in London in 1757, a time when England’s art scene was growing and transforming dramatically. Blake trained as an engraver, eventually developing his own technique that allowed him to combine word and image in colorful works. Blake used this approach to illustrate poems he composed and began to publish limited editions of books on his own, without the assistance of publishing houses. While Blake enjoyed a small number of followers and patrons during his lifetime, he also had a reputation as an eccentric who experienced visions and was not always easy to understand or get along with. His early biographers, some of whom knew him personally, emphasized this aspect of Blake’s personality, creating a narrative of Blake as a mystic and dreamer that persists to this day.
In this episode, British art historian Martin Myrone, Convenor of the British Art Network at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and former senior curator of Pre-1800 British art at Tate Britain, discusses Blake’s work and reputation during and after his lifetime. Myrone wrote the introduction to Lives of William Blake, a book of early accounts of Blake’s life from Getty Publications.
Photographer Dorothea Lange’s California, Then and Now
“It was really powerful to be on the road following her footsteps. It just gave me an incredibly profound respect for her grit.”
In the 1930s and ‘40s, photographer Dorothea Lange drove up and down California and across the American West, recording people and their living conditions with her camera and notepad. Eighty years later, poet Tess Taylor saw echoes of Lange’s photographs of temporary housing, migrant labor, and precarious livelihoods in contemporary California. Taylor retraced Lange’s steps, following itineraries from her notebooks. Taylor’s book-length poem Last West: Roadsongs for Dorothea Lange explores Lange’s legacy in California, combining her notes and photographs with Taylor’s lyric poetry and oral histories. The result is a poignant exploration of the social and environmental challenges facing California today.
In this episode, Tess Taylor and Getty photographs curator Mazie Harris discuss Dorothea Lange’s career, iconic images, and continuing impact. Taylor also reads excerpts from Last West.