National cultural arbiter Flavorpill sponsors select nights at the Getty when the Los Angeles hilltop museum stays open late on Fridays during the summer. They expanded their program and had a few more this year, making the spun and live music experience available to more locals and summer visitors. “Fridays Off the 405” is an appealing ticket, even though (and especially so) it pokes fun at anyone trying to get anywhere in LA off the 405 freeway on a weekend summer evening. On the last such evening of the season, however, I decided to make the trek…from Eagle Rock.
Parking was the only cost, and I even avoided that by parking at the West Bel Air entrance far below Getty Center Drive, and dutifully hiked up Sepulveda (this was not the first time). Traffic had been forgiving going west on the 10, so I was even more happy to take the time to walk, and by the time I exited the tram up in Getty Heaven, it was 6:00 p.m. — perfect timing to whisper the special password for a free drink offered to the first 50 with such insider knowledge.
With its myriad vantage points and travertine wrinkles, The Getty behemoth is prime for viewing the LA sprawl at sunset. On this particular day, on the back side of the South Hall, the red tail and brake lights stringing toward Mexico held ominous sway over the pearly fog and marine layers concealing an ocean view to the west. Further east, the happily cloud-spotted blue skies reigned on past Hollywood and downtown. Various other revelers pointed their cameras and shared their epicurean wares overlooking the scene.
Displayed within the South Hall, “Maria Sibylla Merian & Daughters: Women of Art and Science” was an incredible show that regrettably closed days after I viewed it. I usually hate reading about shows that have already closed, but I guess it’s still good to spread the word. The words, in this case, are bugs, creatures, fruit, flowers, and fun. Maria (German, 1647-1717) was raised and trained at a time when it was expected that, with her talent, she would be commissioned to create works of art for wealthy patrons. She also taught younger ladies and her daughters, who obviously had gobs of natural ability, to embroider and paint the subjects of science and nature.
Merian was married young, had the girls — Dorothea Maria and Johanna Helena — and when they became of age, she left her husband to engross her attention to her artistic and Protestant endeavors. Even through this transformation, she soon found that her religious and creative studies were still stifled.
The show is a celebration of the incredible extent to which these women could depict the most outrageously beautiful plants and creatures on the planet, or at least in Europe, until they went south to Suriname. They had moved to and lived in Amsterdam under the flag of the Dutch colony, so they eventually packed up after having exhausted the local supply of plants and preserved specimens they had grown all too familiar with. They had supported themselves there long enough through selling their work and supplies, only to learn not until they could exorcise the full balance of their religious and illustrative demons in this newfound land, that they would not be complete artisans.
The drawings, watercolors, and paintings in the show are lush and warmly displayed through the small but lushly arranged galleries of the exhibition. Among the teeming vines, tendrils, and petals beckoning throughout are special standouts such as the preserved specimens like the Corallus Snake and the Tupunambis Lizard, a kind of mini-Kimodo dragon in a jar.
Garden hyacinths, pomegranates, lilies, spiders, grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies, caterpillars, moths, larvae, cocoons, birds… All these subjects and more transform the inner sanctums of this cloistered cacophony of culture into a vibrating and lively escape from the concrete and cold reality that belie its most special, historical, and real presence. The gum arabics, vellums, oils, objects, and intimate studies hum and float in a media dance to tantalize all the senses. The watercolors of insect metamorphosis Merian made after studying the countless specimens she encountered in Suriname are stunning.
There was a very central and ample interactive aspect to the show. I had so much fun laughing my way through the replica depictions of original works that you could actually handle. The coloring books for kids of all ages, who had obviously enjoyed the evening, drawing guitars in the negative spaces — this was pure enjoyment.