AIC 2009 in LA: Getty Center Tour

Ethical question: when you go on a lab tour, how much can you responsibly blog about what you hear and see?  I mean, some of this involves people’s individual research, and you can’t jump the gun on them by blogging about it.   Not proper to show artworks, probably, especially since some of them don’t belong to the Getty.  And what can you write about the things you hear on the bus on the way there and back?  Probably best to be discreet.  Hardly anyone reads this, but that might not always be the case.


On the tour, I finally met Richard McCoy in person.  He was much as I’d suspected…smart, witty, and little snarky.  Hope there is more opportunity to chat with him at this conference, tho he seems to have a pretty full schedule.  We began in the objects lab, and I must say it seems the Getty is made of several separate collections and conservation entities and I never did quite get clear on the distinctions.  UCLA/ Getty conservation student Lauren Horelick might be meeting with me later in the week (I am trying to woo her to Alaska for part of her internship year…) and perhaps she can clarify it for me.  The collection serviced by the objects lab (sculpture and decorative arts) is apparently rather small and in pretty good condition, so instead of intense treatments, they focus on:

1. Technical examination, for example the recently published catalog of the baroque collection.

2. Exhibition.  Three mountmakers work with them to make sure things can handle the earthquake threat.  Indeed, all the objects for the upcoming exhibit of French bronzes were strapped down to handy surfaces throughout the lab.

3. Didactics.  Things they make up to illustrate various techniques and processes.  This seems like a huge amount of fun.

4. Outdoor sculptures.  Recent donation of 28 sculptures came with a stipulation that they must go on exhibit in a year.  Mostly, bronzes, some painted metals…a lot of work removing surface coatings.  For many, they re-applied a wax, both because the old wax had done a good job of maintaining the sculptures and also because they didn’t necessarily have the time to fully strip everything.  Some flaking painted surfaces had to be re-done…some in-house and others with consultation with the artists’ foundation and local fabricators.  


 Here is the impressive ceiling of the lab, built for maximum flexibility and  apparently working pretty well.


Next door, the marvellous Arlen Higenbotham described various issues with Asian lacquer and marquetry which he might describe at this conference and I will try to report on that later…gosh he’s bright and has such an ease about him.  Public speaking comes so easily to him…I remember hearing him at the ANAGPIG conference when we were in grad school and it was like some ringer was there as an interloper …he was so relaxed and sounded so expert.  Ever wonder if certain conservators just sprung from the head of Athena or something??  That’s Arlen.  No photos of Arlen’s lab because he’s IN all the photos and I was too novice to ask permission.  Doh!  I’ll catch on to this blog thing yet…













And the prize for the coolest tables goes to the paintings lab!!  Look at those beauties.  Paintings has 4 conservators plus one full-time frame restorer.  They have a September-to-September intern, and then they host 2-3 guest conservators for several months at a time.  Apparently, these folks bring paintings from their own collections to work on.  Some paintings are treated at the Getty for free, with the stipulation that they are then able to be exhibited there for 6 months or so.  This is in keeping with the J. Paul Getty Trust goals of philanthopy and service to the field of conservation.  


  The exterior wall forms a zig zag, with each little triangular nook an individual workspace.  This serves to both provide individual workspaces but maintain a unity and openness to the space.  The purpose was to be able to capture north-facing light, and each space has great natural light.  







  Walking through the framer’s space, I saw this appealing little still-life.  Do you think they left it like that on purpose, knowing it looked like a composition?  What is the story with that adorable little table?









 The Getty Conservation Institute was littered with expensive fancy equipment, but I present for your entertainment a rack of personalized lab coats.  They have a staff of six, roughly divided among the specialties.  X-ray, XRD, XRD, CT scans, and so on.   Fabulous stuff we won’t see in Alaska for the next 50 years, I’m sure.









  This is the lab space I was most intrigued with.  If I understand correctly, this is the conservation studio for the Getty Research Institute, and there are approximately 6 staff here, serving a collection of mainly bound volumes and works of art on paper, and some architectural models, but the conservators here are book, paper, and objects specialists.  This lab had a good feel to it, and the staff seemed to have a particularly good vibe.  By this, I mean certain staff members seemed very geekily enthusiastic about their work and genuinely seemed to like each other.





 Nice storage systems on the walls, I think they were called “The Uni-strut System?”  And check out those bins below…they are on a diagonal slant so you can fit larger boards in them.  So nice!  The avocado-green board shear is apparently the most prized instrument in the lab, seeing the most use and devotion from staff.  They also had a matching avocado green book press, but other 70’s kitchen colors were absent.  Sorry, no Harvest Gold.






  Here is a nice stainless steel washing sink, along with a system for light bleaching of paper, although they rarely use that feature (Hydrofarm Horticultural Products 1000 watt metal halide M47 type lamp suitable for damp locations, 120V 9.0 amps)  The sink has these lovely “leaves” that have interlocking pegs like a nice dining room table, allowing it to be used as a dry flat workspace as well.  They have a couple of nice floor stand binocular microscopes, but one has a lot of vibration in it, perhaps because it has such a long arm. They have a ultrasonic polyester encapsulation system made by Dukane, 120V.  Smaller than some I have seen, but I bet it is perfectly adequate.  


I asked about the impact of recent national economic turmoil on the Getty, and was told that of the 2,500 people employed, there have been perhaps 100 layoffs with another 100 people whose contracts will not be renewed.  This is after 50 layoffs last year.  Thankfully, there were a couple of people in the GCI lab who were moving on for other reasons, and those postions were simply not filled.  I have heard that the Getty endowment lost some 40% of it value in the economic crisis.  Hard times all over I guess.  


 The little exhibit pavillions at the Getty Center are surprisingly intimate.  One had these appealing book stands for illuminated manuscripts.  They seem to be made of thick plexi with highly polished edges, using additional loose  oval or rounded-parallelogram shapes to support the textblock.  The backs of the mounts seem to be painted a dark color and the effect is really quite unobtrusive.  Except, of course, if you have my sickness and the mount-making perversely becomes more fascinating than the artifact.




P5190096  The Japanese lacquer exhibit did not allow photos, but I offer a quote from the label text: “…integrated approach to the conservation of lacquer objects that respects both modern Western conservation ethics, which emphasize minimal intervention and the reversibility of treatments, and traditional Japanese conservation values, which seek to preserve the cultural continuity of objects by employing materials and technologies similar to those used at the time of manufacture.”  Hmmm, interesting.  This used to be the way conservation was practiced here as well.  Does it  perhaps make a difference if your personal cultural heritage is an unbroken line between yourself as the conservator and the original artist?


3 Responses to AIC 2009 in LA: Getty Center Tour

  1. Thank you for sharing these images and describing the ethical issues involved in covering labs. Maybe next time ask people you meet if there’s one project they’re really excited about AND want publicized? I sometimes do that at library conferences.

  2. dancull says:

    Hi Ellen,

    Wow… this is a fantastic post, it’s almost as if I was on the Tour with you… thanks.

    Cheers, Dan.

  3. […] and cost, then there are a couple of posts about tours: ‘my villa lab tour’, and ‘Getty Center Tour’. Not content with that array of posts Ellen also discusses specific lectures and particularly the […]

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