May 15, 2016
We took Margaret to the Getty Center, primarily to see the new exhibition, the Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road. History is one of her main interests, and she had very much enjoyed the Silk Road exhibit at the Natural History Museum when we saw it several years ago, in our pre-blog period, so this exhibit was a “must see.”
We first heard about this exhibition through the Getty 360 email newsletter which the Getty sends us each month, and we then saw an Associated Press article about it in the San Diego Union Tribune: Getty Center Recreates Elaborate Chinese Caves. It runs through September 4, 2016.
The caves of Mogao near Dunhuang were carved out in stages over nearly a millennium from the 4th to the 14th centuries, by Buddhist monks and others. The cave temple complex served those traveling on the Silk Road. The area is situated in northwestern China, on the eastern edge of the Gobi Desert, north of Tibet and south of Mongolia. Roughly half of the approximately 1000 caves have some decoration, and many of those feature elaborate and beautiful religious sculptures and paintings. Many caves fell into disuse during the Ming Dynasty of the 14th to 17th centuries, and the complex seems to have been used only as a local religious center after that. Sand drifted over the site and obscured many of the grottoes and the wooden facades of the cave entrances decayed. Early in the 20th century, Wang Yuanlu, a Daoist monk, discovered tens of thousands of ancient documents and other artifacts that had been sealed in one of the caves. In 1943 the Dunhuang Academy was established to explore and conserve Mogao. Since the 1970s the caves have become a tourist attraction, and the number of visitors has made conservation a critical need. For the last decade, the Getty Conservation Institute has worked with the local institute to stabilize, preserve, and restore some of the cave paintings.
The Getty exhibition has three parts. In the Research Institute building, which we visited first, are displayed actual historical artifacts such as sculptures, parchments, paintings, and drawings. Margaret particularly enjoyed a large embroidered silk tapestry showing a life-sized Buddha, called the Miraculous Image of Liangzhou. It was made around 700 A.D. (It enjoyed a shout out in the AP article linked above.)
Right next to that exhibition there is a small movie theater showing The Cave 45 Virtual Immersive Experience, a short film in 3-D of one of the restored caves, explaining the details of the statuary and the paintings in that particular cave.
The third part of the exhibition is a tent that has been set up especially for this purpose on the entrance plaza at the Getty Center, right near where the trams drop arriving visitors. Within that tent are replicas of three of the cave temples, with docents available to answer questions.
Due to capacity limits, there is timed entry to the replica cave tent. We had the bad luck to time our visit to coincide with a very large group from Riverside which had blocked out some time in the early afternoon. When we first tried to get timed tickets, right after lunch, we were told there would not be any given out for an hour and a half, so we went off to look at the new Rembrandt (see below). When we came back, the earliest timed tickets we could get would have had us waiting at the Getty for nearly an hour and a half, and Margaret was already fatigued at that point. We asked at the information booth if any accommodation could be made for her, given her disabilities, and a supervisor helped us to the front of the line both for the replica cave and the movie, with just a short wait for each. He was gracious and helpful; we were relieved and grateful. If we had been there on our own the wait would not have mattered, and we could have toured other galleries in the meantime, but Margaret has very limited stamina these days.
Although the Chinese cave art was the main focus of our visit, we did make time to see another new exhibit, The Promise of Youth: Rembrandt’s Senses Rediscovered. The Getty owns several Rembrandt paintings and has a couple others on long term loan, but the one which is currently the center of attention is on short term loan only until August 28, 2016. It is called The Unconscious Patient (Allegory of the Sense of Smell) and is one of a series that Rembrandt painted as a young artist illustrating the five senses. See more about the series, and photos of the paintings, on the Getty’s website: here. This painting, illustrating the sense of smell, is displayed between paintings illustrating touch and hearing. The backstory is one of those stranger than fiction stories; the painting was recently rediscovered, and its owners did not know it was by Rembrandt. We read the story of its discovery in an article in the Los Angeles Times. Adjacent to the three “senses” paintings are the museum’s other Rembrandt works.
Admission to the Getty is free, but those arriving by private car pay $15 to park. Parking is at the foot of the hill, and visitors ride trams up to the entry plaza. There were ample handicap spaces in the garage, and accessibility is generally good throughout the center. Finding the elevators is sometimes a little challenging, but all levels of the exhibit buildings can be reached either by elevator or (within the Research Institute exhibit space) by ramp. As we noted, the staff was very helpful with accommodating Margaret, so we give them high marks for disability services.
The café is arranged as a food court with half a dozen stations offering a wide selection of food. The food is good, and the prices are reasonable for a museum cafe. There is also a sit down restaurant.