Museum Hack at the Getty Center: A Flamboyant Peek Into European Art

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“Museum Hack?” I thought. “Who are these people and what exactly are they ‘hacking?’ Is this even legal?”

Alas, my friends, Museum Hack specializes in “hacking” a variety of museums in major cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. The company focuses on giving fun and sassy museum tours with a healthy dose of educational art history.

In other words, Museum Hack = History + Fun!

With almost zero knowledge in art history (I’ve always been a math person anyway), I decided to expand my cultural horizons by visiting a hacked museum tour at the Getty Center.

And let me just say if you haven’t been to the Getty Center, prioritize this on your bucket list because it’s certainly one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever seen. The grounds are filled with stunning architecture that sit high above the Los Angeles landscape, showcasing panoramic views of the City of Angels.

And So It Begins…

I begin the evening by hunting for a parking space (it is Saturday night after all) and proceed upstairs to the tram station.

(Parking is $15. $10 if you park after 3 pm, and free if you park and leave within 1 hour.)

After getting my bag checked, I wait about 5 minutes for the arrival of the tram, which takes passengers to the top of a hill where the Getty Center resides.

After gawking at the beauty of the Getty Center and snapping a bunch of photos of the landscape, I make my way inside the museum.

The museum has four wings to explore:

  • North: Art < 1700: Paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, illuminated manuscripts, and changing exhibitions.
  • South: Art 1600 – 1800: Paintings, decorative arts, and changing exhibitions.
  • East: 1600 – 1800: Paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.
  • West: Art > 1800: Paintings, drawings, changing exhibitions, sculptures, decorative arts, and photographs.

A half hour before my scheduled tour begins, I try and cover as much ground as possible, exploring the museum store and paintings at my own leisure. As I said, I know next to nothing about art history, but seeing actual paintings by actual famous artists was pretty damn awesome. (They do exist after all!)

The Museum Hack Tour

The inevitable hand has struck 6:00 pm, which means the tour was about to commence. I meet with my tour guide Adrian, who should have her own Disney movie with her cheerful and exuberant demeanor. Her level of enthusiasm was quite literally off the charts and actually made me semi-interested in my least favorite subject (History…zzzzzz).

She kicks off the tour by guiding me and her 6 other minions (aka the rest of the tour group) to a room filled with ceramics and “joke” drinkware, most notably of one that is shaped like a small man:

I’ll leave it to you to figure out how to drink from this. (Hint: Think Rudolph.)

Adrian than proceeds to take us into a room filled with religious paintings, where she talks about Saints and…babies? Yes, the baby talk was real. We talked about cross fit babies, old looking babies…basically the aesthetic of babies that were depicted in these types of Italian and European paintings.

Clearly, these artists have mastered their craftsmanship with color, contrast, detail, and other traits of painting that I lack any sort of awareness of, but when it comes to painting babies, well I think some sort of “How To” guidebook would have certainly helped these guys.

Adrian than stops to tell us to take a picture of something in the gallery that we would want to take home with us (in the hypothetical sense of course). She assured us that there would be a nice prize for whoever comes up with the best “present” to take home with us, but this won’t be revealed until the very end of the tour.

Next, we move into the gallery of Caravaggio, known literally as a backstabber, who blew his entire inheritance on a sword and proceeded to stab everyone in the back. Great guy.

But, we have to give the man props for his masterful lighting contrast, known by Adrian as “the Instagram filter of his time.”

Adrian than leads us to a room filled with more pre-1700 European paintings, where we were free to roam and snap pictures of; Here are a few of my favorites:

We also played various scavenger hunt games where we searched for certain aspects of a painting, “Where’s Waldo” style, such as finding a monkey, a man vomiting, and a cat. Yay cats!

In the next room over, we played another game that I’m going to call “Take a picture of something and create a fictional story out of it.” We were in teams of 2 and had to utilize the following 3 aspects to create a fictional story between 2 historical figures that we took pictures of:

  • What is the name of the person or thing that you took a picture of?
  • How did the 2 historical figures meet?
  • What is their relationship like now?

I don’t have a picture of what my partner took, but let’s just say it’s of a small child, whom he named Beth.

Here’s a picture of a person that I took (from a sculpture actually) whom I fittingly named Bob.

Look how happy he is.

Here was our story that we came up with:

Beth and Bob met via the story from the movie “Up.” They met by chance and formed a wonderful friendship that was eventually tested by Bob’s patience for Beth. He grew sick of her childish tantrums and began distancing himself, so much so that Beth and Bob are no longer on speaking terms.

The end.

We all needed some fresh air, where we were treated to a spectacular view of the LA nightlife, and a brief history lesson on a sculpture that focused on…penises?

(My phone almost died at this point, so I couldn’t take a picture of the sculpture, which was of a small man with a large penis riding an animal of some sort. Actually, it was probably for the best that I did not take a picture of this.)

While it doesn’t snow in Los Angeles, the winter nights do get chilly, so we all had enough of talking about penises for one day and hurried inside.

We move on to the South Pavilion, which contained mostly decorative arts, including pieces of chairs, clocks, desks, beds, and a sofa.

Too bad this sofa was off limits; It would have been nice to test this out, IKEA-style.

The Getty Center only features 2 works by female artists, and this is one of them:

According to Adrian, most men in paintings would be depicted as holding a book open to portray how intelligent and scholarly they must be. This portrait is basically the artist’s way of saying “F you” to the male society of her time. (I forgot the artist’s name though, sorry!)

This sculpture here of a male is another piece of work by a female artist (I forgot her name as well, unfortunately). She created this statue using only wood and used glass eyes for the eyeballs:

And this painting is apparently created from an actual mummy. As in, the mummy was “ground up” and made into paint, which was used as brown pigment:

We move on to one of the final galleries where the works of artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, and Cézanne reside within the Impressionism realm.

It was pretty surreal to see one of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings in person:

This painting by Edouard Manet apparently costs $65 million, which is about $100,000 per square inch. Let me just ask my dad real quick to whip out his credit card.

Here’s a piece I really like by Claude Monet:

And finally, we have Paul Cézanne:

We exit the gallery where we are each given a complimentary postcard to send to whoever we wanted. (I choose my beloved aunt Hasmig, who is an art connoisseur herself.) We also share our “presents” from the gallery that we would want to take home with us. I choose this cat, with no profound explanation other than “It’s fluffy and I want it:”

The winner (who wasn’t me) gave a nice, rhetorical explanation of why she wanted to take home a particular painting. Something about feeling connected spiritually and all that jazz. Either way, she received a magnet to take home with her which depicted a quote by J. Paul Getty that said “My formula for success is rise early, work late, and strike oil.” I think I can learn a thing or two from this man.

Overall Thoughts

Having no art history knowledge or background, I was a little skeptical on the level of “fun” this tour could possibly be, but I have to give major props to Adrian for turning what could have been a boring museum tour, into a flamboyant and upbeat adventure. We all played fun photography and scavenger hunt games that allowed us to briefly become a part of history, or so I like to think.

So in a nutshell, the Museum Hack tour of the Getty Center was an incredible experience because:

  • Adrian was an awesome tour guide, sharing “insider secrets” on famous art pieces
  • The paintings and sculptures were beautiful and surreal to look at
  • The Getty Center grounds and architecture are worth the trip alone
  • We played a variety of fun museum games
  • We all received complimentary museum swag

Until next time, Museum Hack!

(That’s me on the far left alongside the rest of the tour group!)

 

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