Reconstructing the Classics

The Getty Villa’s classically inspired architecture has always set the perfect stage to view art of the antiquities by enabling the illusion of authentic perspective.   However, the three current exhibits: Reconstructing Identity: The Statue of a God from Dresden, The Getty Commodus: Roman Portraits and Modern Copies and Fragment to Vase: Approaches to Ceramic Restoration do more than allow classical art enthusiasts a place to view their objects of desire; they allow a behind-the-scenes peek at the challenges of object collection and conservation.

Reconstructing Identity traces the history of a monumental statue that has worn many hats, or more accurately, many heads.  Since his discovery in Italy in the seventeenth century, the statue has posed as Alexander the Great, Bacchus the god of wine, and the youth Antinous. The exhibit tells the tale of this mystery man and how he ended up in a villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean by the examining the singular sculptural figure and exploring his morphic identity through the different heads he has donned.

The Getty Commodus, inspired by the Getty’s acquisition of the marble bust of Commodus (A.D. 161-192) showcases a number of busts with similar characteristics to the ancient Getty Commodus thereby creating a conversation of influence between the pieces.  By looking at Commodus and its figural descendents, the exhibit serves to illuminate the history of bust-sculpture as well as shed some light on the replication of the portrait bust into the Renaissance.

Fragment to Vase explains the restoration process of classical ceramic art pieces.  As someone who can scarcely amble through her friends’ tiny post-grad apartments without knocking over a 29-dollar vase from West Elm, I have always been fascinated by thousand-year-old ceramic vases that remain fully intact.  It seems impossible that one could remain intact through ages traveling through continents, natural disasters and dish-throwing break-ups.  Fragment to Vase exposes the truth that most vases do require restoration.  The exhibit shows a number of fully restored classical vases and also reveals the process of restoration.  Partially restored vases allow viewers to take a peek at the reconstructed cracks on the inside of the vases and learn about the methods restorers rely on to ensure the original integrity of the vase is honored.

The Getty Villa stays true to its mission of education as these three exhibitions dedicate as much attention to the illumination of these art-historical tales as they do the displays the artworks themselves. Michael Brand, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, best explains the unique nature of these exhibits “These exhibitions provide an opportunity for the public to see that the works of art they view in museums do not necessarily have static lives.  Bringing these works to life is an exciting process that often involves determination, collaboration, and detective work.”

Where: Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, CA

When: December 18, 2008 to June 1, 2009


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