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Starving at the Unfriendly Getty Center

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Critics see art shows and art facilities at the press preview, the gala opening and the fancy party. It is usually refreshing, then, to go to a museum on an ordinary day and see what it is like for everyone else.

When I mentioned to a friend with connections in the hotel industry that I was taking my girlfriend to the Getty for her birthday, my buddy chuckled, "Apparently the Annenberg Center for Photography's entire marketing strategy is to work local concierges at high-end hotels to recommend the Annenberg over the Getty. Tourists are the top of the market and locals are the bottom."

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No word on how many melanomas the Getty serves up every afternoon with its lone inconvenient and antiquated foodcart.

We pulled into the Getty parking lot at 3:20, paid our $15 parking fee and were then told the grounds closed at 5:30. First thing we intended to do was eat at the cafe. Well that was not to be the case. The cafe was closed! The only food available on a sunny Friday afternoon in springtime was a food cart. We waited in line for ten minutes to spend fourteen bucks on a prepackaged salad and two bananas.

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If the Getty lies about the times its cafe stays open, do they lie about the importance of the art and artists they exhibit as well?

We had time to see one show in-depth and the birthday girl chose A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now. This show uses a few Walker Evans photos of no aesthetic and little anthropological value to rationalize a large swathe of the gallery be given over to three contemporary photographers who make the most exciting island in all the Caribbean appear duller than a stale empanada.

I lost count of how many placards in this show tell us what we are seeing and then speculate that a particular political point of view is being expressed/is to blame/had an influence, et cetera. Getty curators take notes from heavy-handed television political debates and then add nothing to our gallery-going experience by pamphleteering on the wall. This stuff wouldn't even qualify for a Getty grant.

The Getty might actually start losing their tourist foot traffic to other institutions competing for visitors. They will certainly be losing Southern California regulars as all of their policies exist to benefit the Getty. To reiterate:

Strike 1, Food: While it surely saves a few bucks to close a kitchen at 3 PM, offering nothing but a small food cart with a long wait... "take it or leave it" is the type of oversight that reeks of not caring for the guest.

Strike 2, Laughable Scholarship: You may have scholars with impressive credentials, but if their interactions with the public are wall placard speculations of what someone's politics might have been in 1933 with not a shred of supporting evidence, it is "taking liberties" in the guise of research.

Strike 3, Denial of the Realities of L.A.: If 10 AM to 5:30 PM sounds like good hours to keep, imagine dumping out most of the daily toll onto the 405 in the middle of a Friday rush hour; convenient for Getty employees, inconsiderate of the guests, the neighborhood and the rush hour.

Dearest Getty Center: a world-class reputation is earned, not purchased, and much like a local sports team, a local civic institution can see its base of support dwindle with back-to-back losing seasons. Or in the above cases I present from a short afternoon visit: Three strikes and you are out.

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Once you have encountered the Getty's ugly underbelly, this beautiful vista only serves to underscore how isolated you and your date are from any food choices available to everyone down there.

The Norton Simon has a far superior permanent collection than the Getty. The Huntington has better gardens than the Getty. The L.A. County Arboretum is a better day in the park than the Getty. The Walt Disney Concert Hall is a better immersion in architectural possibilities than the Getty. The L.A. County Museum has better traveling exhibitions than the Getty.

None of these institutions allow their scholars to speculate, bottom-feeder style, about politics on wall placards. All of these institutions feed their guests well with facilities bigger than a food cart. These eateries don't close two and a half hours before the gates shut. And none of them unceremoniously dump you out on the 405 at 5:30 PM on a Friday. With the food, the traffic and the curating, the choice made is always what is good for the Getty. And so we can surmise that the needs of the public are not a priority as a matter of policy among this allegedly leading institution.

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It is worth noting that none of the trees in the Getty garden bear fruit or anything edible for that matter.

Please recall these minor grievances this fall when the Getty tries to force-feed you its narrative of the history of Los Angeles in its citywide Pacific Standard Time exhibition. When they roll out the red carpet for the local press, you can bet there will be more than a food cart open for the media and that the parties will run well past rush hour. The Getty's promotion of Pacific Standard Time will give lip service to Los Angeles and its artists and its history but it took only one afternoon visit on an ordinary day to see that the Getty is only promoting what is convenient and beneficial to the Getty. It is how they seem to run everything, and it is how they will oversee their coming big show about the art in a little town whose citizens it offers a food cart, unsubstantiated propaganda and a heave-ho into rush hour.

All photos taken on May 20 by the underfed author.

Come see Mat Gleason's latest curated art exhibit TEL-ART-PHONE at the Beacon Arts Building in Ingelwood, May 28 thru July 3. Over 80 artists investigate the nature of the creative process in TEL-ART-PHONE.