An Eye on the Bigger Picture

smithsonian.com

A few years back, I had the pleasure of training to become a Getty Volunteer – one of the beige clad folks that direct human traffic to the trams, restaurants, and Van Gogh’s “Irises" at the Getty Center. As part of our education, we were treated to a wonderful lecture by Scott Schaefer, Getty’s curator of paintings, who took us on whirlwind tour of the last five years of painting and sculpture acquisitions.

One painting, Degas’ “After the Bath" stood apart from the crowd, not necessarily for its fine illustration of Degas’ later work, but for what Schaefer had to say about it. He pointed out that the nearby Norton Simon had a great collection of works by the artist, specifically of the “dancer" genre. When it came time to fill a Degas hole in the Getty’s collection, Schaefer didn’t want to get something that was already available to the local museum aficionados, unless it was of far superior quality. He felt that his task was to not only acquire the best piece he could find for the Getty, but one that also served to augment the collection of “greater Los Angeles." Thus he wasn’t really on the hunt for another ballerina. I remember thinking that this was such a broad minded and refreshing perspective: to look at the area collaboratively, while maintaining a healthy, competitive eye for excellence.

I was reminded of Schaefer’s vision again as I read Suzanne Muchnic’s Los Angeles Times coverage of Getty’s newest treasure, Gauguin’s "Arii Matamoe (The Royal End)." At the end, Muchnic lists the other Gauguin works in LA, and quotes Schaefer’s assessment of the city’s Gauguin holdings, “Together," Schaefer said, “the artworks represent the entire sweep of Gauguin's career." Should I ever get the opportunity to curate at such a level, I will keep my eye on Schaefer’s vision.

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