For "Departures," Baldessari chose a small, early 16th century watercolor and gouache drawing by Albrecht Durer, "Stag Beetle," and replicated the work on paper at a scale of 11 1/2 by 14 1/2 feet. Huge. An equally inflated replica of a specimen pin pierces the center of Baldessari's blowup, reducing the viewer to bug size in relation to the work and recognizing that just being big is too often seen as a premium in the contemporary world.
It is a piece that Getty Museum director Walsh points to as capturing all that the show set out to do. "It's one of the great sight gags of our time," Walsh said in a separate interview. "And then you come closer and the object is extremely beautiful, and the play between size and scale is wonderful. The venerated German artist is taking a little piece of paper and making a picture of this incredibly scary prehistoric figure, and John [Baldessari] has realized the nightmare. Making it the size of a tank pinned on the wall, it becomes a meditation on what we collect."
On the contemplative side, the precise, minimal work of Miller represents a response to medieval manuscripts, Lyons says. Miller's images are consistent with previous works--patterned abstractions that are quiet parades of simple, uniform geometric shapes.
Lyons explains the link to the intricate detail of his inspiration, which might otherwise be elusive: "I think his work is moving in a more spiritual direction, even though I think it might make him uncomfortable to say that. And also he's drawn to a direct connection between the viewer and a manuscript, the notion of picking up a book and holding it in your hand and having a very intimate experience with that work of art. It is something that he seeks in his own work, even though it's a monumental painting on the wall."
Lyons' training at the Walker under former director Martin Friedman--also mentor to former Museum of Contemporary Art director Richard Koshalek, among others in the museum field--led her to make artists' interests primary in the creation of any exhibition. The Getty's usual focus on artists who are dead--with the exception of Lyons' commissions and, most notably, Robert Irwin's garden--made "Departures" a somewhat new experience for the Getty staff. Everyone has had to retain their sense of humor, particularly in response to Kersels, who made a replica of the famous "Getty Kouros (Young Man)," a prized acquisition cataloged by the museum as "ca. 530 BC or modern forgery" that has been subject to every possible kind of academic scrutiny about its authenticity. Kersels took his replica into the real world and had himself photographed with it in a series of mockingly destructive situations--jumping through the air, bounding into bushes.
Fiskin also poked fun at the Getty Center as a whole in a video work titled "My Getty Center," a response to citywide banners that carried that slogan when the center opened in late 1998.
"I was interested in what they wanted to do, in how an artist makes a museum visit and how it comes out in work," Lyons says.
"For Judy [Fiskin], it's the whole ball of wax. Her piece really is about a kind of love-hate relationship with museums in general. And when we previewed the tape recently for a number of people at the museum, they were hooting with laughter."
Ambivalence about museums today is something Lyons shares with many of the artists in the show. Her work at the Lannan Foundation, once a small but distinctive exhibition space on the Westside, ended on a sour note in 1996 when Patrick Lannan decided to close the space and disperse the collection. Lyons quit rather than help sell and/or give away works she had carefully helped acquire for the foundation. Since then she has been reluctant to join the staff of any museum, viewing today's institutions as out of step with her values.
"These days it seems to me that the art is really getting lost at museums, because many other things are being put before the art," she says with more than a touch of anger in her voice. "Such as entertainment. Education. The cult of the personality. For me, museums are all about art.
"I believe there should be an educational component to every exhibition, but all these things, to my mind, are supposed to be in support of the art. Museums are trying to make people feel comfortable and give them familiar surroundings to operate in. Too many museums feel like shopping malls, or theme parks, as opposed to institutions dedicated to something that might make you feel uncomfortable. That might challenge you. That might not look familiar. That is always what is interesting to me about art. I'm always looking for something I've never seen before and that maybe I don't understand. In a way, this exhibition allows people to get a bit inside artists' heads."