There is No Pointing at The Getty
Driving Sepulveda pass every day in 1996, I watched the J. Paul Getty Center emerge. The pass is most exciting when you’re headed north, and the San Fernando Valley suddenly appears ahead of you, spread out in a brown-green panorama, and on a clear day, fringed by blue mountains. At night, it is a sparkling jewel. Sometimes, as you creep in traffic toward this vantage point, anticipating the view, you can study the Getty to your left, watch the shuttle train zigzag up several switchbacks from the parking structure to the museum. You can thank the gas pump for the Getty museums. J. Paul’s wealth is oil-based, like your salad dressing.
When the museum opened in December of 1997, tickets were hard to get, and parking was so difficult that reservations were required weeks in advance. Trying to bypass freeway traffic by taking Old Sepulveda through the pass could stymie one’s craftiness as you crunch the brakes behind a slow moving armada headed for the Getty structure.
Suzy, the pert studio teacher had come upon a pair of cherished tickets for the Getty center. Since I was the only other employee who did not have to park two blocks away or punch the time clock, I got to accompany her to the Getty.
We did not find much to make us linger, not like the Louvre or the Hermitage. We came to a room that contained a collection of wooden clocks.
By this time, Suzy and I had been silent since she had found some inspiration from Titian. We stopped for a brief moment in front of a wooden clock. "Look," I said, "It has the phases of the moon."
"Where?" Suzy asked. "There," I said, pointing at a small mechanical moon in a window at the top of the clock. From behind us, an official voice: "Step away from the object of art!"
A solid young woman in a yellow blazer, carrying a walkie-talkie was holding her arms out as if to keep us from turning tail and running. "What’s the matter?" I asked, surprised, perplexed. Fixing a gunmetal-steel gaze at Suzy and me, she commanded: "There is no pointing at the Getty."
I turned the weapon in question at myself, wondering with all my might what might happen if a pointed finger got out of hand.
The guard moved aside, waving us away from the "object of art" with her radio. (I cautiously point out that she could be around five-three and about 265 pounds with a very officially maintained cornrow hairdo.) The loud telltale ticking of all those clocks added to the throbbing blush of my forehead and temples. As we walked past those gloating timepieces, my hands detached from my brain, those mischievous appendages mocking me, trying to flail and point defiantly in all directions. Tucked into my armpits, I took control as Suzy looked on, eyebrows scrunched.
For a moment, we appeared to be alone in the next room, which had several three-paneled triptychs set out on tables. I had always seen these hung on walls, and I found myself wondering what material was used to create these tri folds some 500 or so years ago. I moved to the edge of the table, and looked around behind the right-most panel. I heard running feet: "Step away from the object of art!"
This time, our "friend" had called for backup. There were four stout guards in yellow jackets and walkie-talkies. "I was just looking…" I tried to explain.
"There is no looking!.
Suddenly, my throat was dry, and I needed air. I grabbed Suzy, and we passed through the phalanx of art wardens, neither looking right nor left, to a passageway.
I thought of "The Fugitive" as we clacked down that marble passage. At the end, beyond the glass door, the glowing light of day, the cool, green courtyard and freedom. I pushed the panic bar, and let Suzy pass, and as I went through, sirens began to wail. Growling claxons screamed. Lovers on benches in the courtyard unclenched and looked in our direction.
Now, we were surrounded by what seemed to be a multi-jurisdictional museum swat team. "Step away from the egress." I felt sorry for Suzy who came to see Titian and ended up with a gallery goon.
I have not been back to the Getty since, well, actually, I have been back, but did not venture into the galleries. I looked through an office window, and I believe I saw a picture on the wall taken from a surveillance camera – it was me, arm outstretched and pointing: "We’re number one!"
A few years later, it was discovered that the Getty had been buying stolen and plundered art, and was being pursued by the Italian government. As I put down the Daily News, I put pencil to paper, to show there were no hard feelings, I offered my heartfelt advice to the J. Paul Getty Museum:
"Step away from the objects of art."
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