Giddy at the Getty

J. Paul Getty was an oil magnate who traveled and learned to appreciate the antiquities of Greece and Rome. He was an avid collector and showed pieces he acquired in his Malibu mission-style ranch house. Although he lived in London most of his later life, he commissioned the Getty Villa to be built in Los Angeles to house his artwork but never saw the villa.

The Getty Villa simulates a Roman villa from Herculaneum, a town that was buried from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. While Pompeii is better known for the entire city that was excavated, the site at Herculaneum was closer to Vesuvius and was preserved intact under 65 feet of ash and lava.

The villa that Getty copied was owned by a Roman senator whose daughter was married to Julius Caesar. The senator was quite wealthy and influential, and the house was 60,000 sf. The Getty Villa is a small replica of the Roman one and contains an amphitheater for Greek plays, a peristyle or colonnade surrounding an atrium for dining and social meetings, and rooms above to house slaves.

Getty clearly got addicted to acquiring Greek and Roman artifacts. Once he accumulated all of these possessions, he had to build a museum to house them. Stephen Garrett, an architect, was hired to research, design and build the villa. Machado and Silvetti were also involved in the design of the site.

Photos, from top, left to right:
1. Entrance Plaque to the Getty
2. Detail of Greek Terra Cotta Dish, ca. 450 BC
3. Detail of Roman Sculpture, ca. 150 AD
4. Exterior Garden and Pool

The Getty Center, also built with Getty Foundation funds after Getty’s death, took more than 20 years to complete from inception to opening. It was designed expressly for the preservation of Western Art at the cost of $1 Billion and as part of a lawsuit. Family members were engaged in a bitter battle over the inheritance, and the only resolution was to build the museum. Twenty years ago, I was disappointed that funds were not devoted to building a higher education institution. The UCSF Mission Bay Campus would have cost about $1 Billion.

However, with all the museums I have visited this past year, I have revised my opinion. The Getty Center has become a vibrant and relevant educational institution on its own merits. I certainly witnessed many diverse visitors enjoying the buildings, exhibitions, and gardens. The Turner exhibition and the WWI Images special exhibition at the Research Center were both excellent and well curated. With a variety of visual aids, visitors were engaged in learning about the artists and the subject matter. For some reason I was more aware of the level of activity and engagement at both locations than what I normally notice at other museums. Both museums are free.

Photos, from top, left to right:

1. I-405 Freeway Access to Getty Center; a Monorail takes visitors from Parking Lot to Center at top of hill
2. Approach to Main Plaza
3. Main Plaza
4. Research Center. Buildings are designed by Richard Meier, a prominent New York architect. He moved to the site to determine placement of buildings. Flooring, panels and windows are designed to the architect’s signature 30″ grid. The Center opened in 2006.

Being located at the northern end of Los Angeles, the Getty Villa in Malibu and the Getty Center off I-405 are worth grouping for a day-long tour of both. Unfortunately getting to both requires a car.


1. Exhibit from WWI Images.Map by Walter Trier, an artist who illustrated books for Eric Kastner. Each European country is a sinister character.
2. Henry Moore Sculpture, 1983
3. Chart showing personalities of each European Country, divided by “Futurists” and traditionalists or those against progress.

1. Burl texture (see Sacto Dreamin’ video from November)
2. Super gigantic fig tree in garden of Fairmont Miramar Hotel, Santa Monica.
3. Acanthus leaves in garden at Getty Villa, similar to those represented on Corinthian columns

LA Downtown and Loca-MOCA

(The panorama above is taken in Palmdale, on the edge of the Mojave Desert. We spent the last couple of days comparing this high and dry area to that of Dunhuang and Turpan, our prior travels last September. Very similar in the moon-like landscapes and austere surroundings.)

Back to civilization…one of the signature buildings in LA is the Disney Hall, designed by Frank Gehry. It’s located on the corner of the LA Civic Center. While controversioal at the time it was built like all Gehry buildings, this fanciful building seems strangely apropos for LA.

Down the street, one of the grand old buildings preserved in its splendor is the Millenium Biltmore. This was the location of the hotel where “Pretty Woman” was filmed. An ironic building sign at a service entrance wasn’t able to practice what it preached.

More downtown hi-rises, along with the  $140 Million Broad Contemporary Art Museum under construction by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. (to read more: see

A dual screen presentation on Compton, CA, inside the Museum of Contemporary Art showed daily life and unfortunate realities of death and dying in the city since the Rodney King beating.

Ooh La-La LaBrea and LACMA

My two hits for the day were the Page Museum at the LaBrea Tar Pits, and the LA County Museum.

The La Brea Tarpits contain asphalt that formed after the sea was covered over millions of years by organic trash and debris. The bubbling mass is caused by natural gas or methane, and the goo on the top is asphalt. La Brea has some of the most complete deposits in the world where many animal remains were preserved in the tar. When animals got stuck in the tar, they in turn from their scents and sounds attracted predators and birds. Eventually all the living creatures got stuck in the thick mess and died, leaving intact an entire ecosystem. While Dinosaurs existed 65 million years ago and Homo Sapiens 200,000 yrs ago, these animals found in LaBrea were much later, from 40,000 years ago. During the Ice Age these animals migrated south and settled in this area. This move might have been a fine annual sojourn were it not for getting stuck.

Photos above, clockwise:

1. Tar Pits, with occasional eruption or two
2. Display of Ice Age bison, ca. 40,000 BCE (not a dinosaur)
3. Researchers in lab studying bone fragments

In the afternoon, I decided to focus on the Islamic Art and German Expressionists at the well-endowed LA County.

I couldn’t find any traditional Islamic Art on display, but was captivated by a contemporary exhibition of Islamic artists.

Photos, from top, left to right:

1. Display of women as a topic in art (very cautiously and respectfully depicted, although one showed women being trained to scale a wall in the Police Academy in their full burkas). The Ipad in the foreground was a very effective tool available to the public to access additional information about the collection nearby and to read about the artist and the work beyond a tag and title. Seating with the Ipad also made the experience of doing and viewing art much more pleasurable.

2. Display of text describing artwork of woman viewing life through a veil
3. Tombstone of dissident who was not allowed to have a monument in the cemetary

For further reading:

German expressionism sounds pretty dry, but like all things German there is much more depth than what meets the eye. My first introduction today perusing the LACMA collection was to Ernst Barlach. He was a graphic artist of sorts, and sculptor who tried tackling the horrors of poverty and dying. Although trained in Dresden and Berlin as a fine artist, it was his travels to Russia that affected him deeply. He drew from Goethe’s Faust and other literary contexts to depict the emotions of the suffering and the end of the world. The information provided at the exhibition is attached.




(For further reading:

Other German Expressionists, like Rottluff who was instrumental in Die Brücke group and Otto Dix from die Blaue Reiter movement, moved away from the illusionary three dimensional depictions on a flat plane to more abstract forms that introduced feelings into their art. More use of color and obscuring the picture plane were techniques used, and inner feelings of fear, alienation and tragedy were common themes. The role of religion was often challenged, and an ominous premonition of bad things to come seemed evident in the short period of 1913-1925, before this type of art, considered degenerate, was banned by the Nazis in 1933. (for further reading:

However, there was a third and accidental discovery. I found myself looking for women artists. Initially I thought it would be nearly impossible. I was curious about the lack of noteworthy women artists mentioned in the play “Heidi Chronicles” (I saw it in NYC earlier this month). I was delighted to find several examples with relative ease. Perhaps there are female artists, albeit fewer in the earlier development of art. See those below:

1. female artist and work to be identified
2. Hannah Hoch, Picture XI Blue, 1920
3. Barbara Hepworth, Reclining Form, 1959
4. female artist and work to be identified

LA Dinner and a Cruise

I’m on a long weekend to La-La Land, with planned visits to a couple of galleries and museums.

After locating a cozy restaurant in the neighborhood (see photos of our focaccia bread with tapenade and ahi tuna appetizer) and delighting in a meal of watercress, pine nuts and parmesan salad, angel hair pasta, and hazelnut ice cream in a waffle tart, my next venture was “cruisin’ along Wilshire by foot the following day.

The LA Metro, located within one block of our hotel near Universal Studios, turned out to be a great option and asset. It allowed us to maintain our public transit-first approach to travel. Gee Kin took it to his business meeting and I took the red and purple line to the museum. The La Brea Tar Pits and the LACMA are located along the Museum Mile on Wilshire Avenue. The 3-4 mile walk from the Wilshire-Western Station to these destinations got me back in the groove of getting exercise while “cruisin’ along” plenty of new shops and sights. The screen shot shows the Metro route in red (without the purple extension that I took one way); the blue dotted line is what I walked.


The Metro in LA, while a fairly new invention, is very accessible and easy to use. Most tourists would not consider using it, but it in fact does its job in a very modern, non-LA sort of way. It may not be your first thought, but if you give it a try you will find it’s a pretty good solution to getting around LA. While it’s still not a natural thought and takes work, it gets everyone out of their cars! So, why not??

Starting my walk with Korea town, I traversed the residential area of Wilshire Park, where the golden 30’s era chateaux and mini mansions seemed frozen in time and space. All the stars of yesteryear felt at home here. Amidst tree-lined streets (reminiscent of those in Sacramento from my November post last year), stripped palm fronds lay at the foot of stately trees like abandoned children torn from their parents. Similarly, stumpy, sagging and dated Art Deco buildings bleated for love but got little attention.

Just as I wondered if anyone had the uncool nerve to carry an umbrella in LA for sun shading, I suddenly saw someone doing exactly that. Finally, I thought, some practical minds at work. You wouldn’t be caught dead doing that in San Francisco with its perpetual foggy bottoms and rare temperature highs. The irony is that I dived into a Rite-aid to buy an umbrella but not for this purpose. I had lost an umbrella last year and heard from Gee Kin that the coveted little device came from Rite-aid. The design, size, sturdiness, and all features were priceless. (Tip for today: get one of these in your travel repertoire!) So much so that I beat it to the first Riteaid I have seen in 9 months (which happened to be in LA on this walk), faced the wrath of the cashier who stared at me like I was a stark raving idiot, and carried it around for a day in 90 degree weather (with no intention of using it for sun shading–I’m from San Francisco, after all!)

But I digress. See the next post for what I really did.

Overboard on Opera

Why do I like opera?

Here’s a typical synopsis: Boy meets girl. Boy is king in disguise. Father of girl is banned from kingdom. Father wants daughter to marry another boy. But girl is in love with a third boy. All get called to war and sort it out after the tribal war. This is the material of opera, a mirror of life.

What’s your favorite? A musical? Poetry? Symphony? Art? Technical perfection? As a novice to opera, I found that it combines all of these forms into one efficient, elaborate, and exhilarating performance.

Songs are stitched together to make a story. The stories are not always realistic, but they end up being strangely irrelevant anyway. The pacing builds the drama and time slowly sucks the viewer into revelation, rapture, and eventual addiction. That’s what opera has done to me. These are true confessions of a hopelessly vulnerable opera fanatic. Maybe you know one.

Or perhaps you relate to another passionate persuasion. Being or knowing a skier? Snowboarder? Card player? These are obsessions that keep us going. After this week in New York, I can say opera is mine. Like anything, it grows with commitment.

For those of you just dipping into the scene, here are a few tips I can offer:

1. This is an expensive sport, just like golfing or skiing. Rather than get cheap tickets in the beginning, choose one opera and the best seats you can afford. Bad seats, especially in the balcony, will put you to sleep. You need eye contact with the performers on stage, no more than 80-100′ to stay engaged. I like the ones on the sides of the orchestra. After you have seen the same opera a couple of times, you can then buy the cheaper tix.
2. Rest or take a nap before the performance (you have to quit your job first).
3. Knowing a little Italian, French, or German will really enhance your experience. One of the reasons I am learning German is for this purpose.
4. Watching Metopera high definition movies is definitely the best way to learn and appreciate opera. For the price of the balcony seats live you will get a much better experience seeing the performers close up (heaves, sweats, and bad makeup), but you will learn from interviews with performers what inspires them to perform. You can imagine being a composer like Rossini or a performer like Anna Netrebko, and vicariously live their lives? What wouldn’t I give to be one, short of talent and dedication???

If you really don’t intend to commit to live performances, you can see plenty of excerpts on YouTube. Look for Anna Netrebko or Jonas Kaufmann. I learned about them from the Metopera Movies, and they are currently among the best in the business and highly sought after.

You can also see and hear clips of the Donna del Lago Met performance I saw today with Joyce diDonato and Juan Diego Flores at Where else would you find a Mezzo-Soprano won by another Mezzo soprano in a male role in a kilt skirt over the King of Scotland?!? A good starter.

Brooklyn Fashion at the Legion of Honor

Being a contributing member of the Fine Arts Museums not only gives you reciprocal membership at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, but over 100 other museums throughout the U.S. So if you intend to hit major museums like I am within one year, it’s a worthwhile membership. It includes the MOCA in LA other key museums in lesser traveled cities.

Last night we attended the opening of the new exhibition at the Legion of Honor. Sponsored by the Brooklyn Museum, it featured fashion from the 20th century. Here were a few of the displays:

The well attired attendees were worth seeing and viewing, along with one of the room collections in evening splendor.

Man Oh Manon!

My last night in New York was topped off by seeing the third opera I booked, Manon by Massenet. There are two operatic versions of this story. Puccini wrote a version known as Manon Lescaut. They can easily be confused with each other. It must be a well-known French melodrama to warrant two operas of the same story!

Watching this production live in New York with Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo could only be the ultimate experience. The story is complex and dense. It takes place in Amiens and Paris, and inside the church at St. Sulpice. It portrayed 19th C. France at its best and worst, with many social pressures and expectations surrounding all classes of society.

I was first drawn to this opera listening to the music in the Sirius Metopera Channel. The excellent staging and acting make going to the opera a complete experience. If you looking for lesser-known operas and have the opportunity to catch it, I highly recommend investing in this one. It’s a bit risqué and even blasphemous, but contains all the lust and drama to engage us yet remind us how normal and healthy we are today.

You can see an X-rated clip of the 3rd Act with another diva (and my favorite), Anna Netrebko, in the lead role at Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an exact video of the opera stars who performed last night, but this gives you an idea of the intensity of the act. Des Grieux has joined the priesthood in St. Sulpice and Manon comes back to find her spurned lover there. Note the clever way the columns are erected–askew–to reflect the instability of the situation. Brilliant artistry!


If you thought opera was boring, this will change your mind. I’ll sign off with this thought and the Manon curtain call. Adieu (to God?)!!

Sadly, this is my curtain call for a week’s venture to NYC opera, theater, and museums. Please look for posts from the Dresden Music Festival in May (my fourth in four years!) when friends from Switzerland will be meeting Gee Kin and me. We plan to include side trips to Prague, Czechoslovakia, and revisits to favorite cities Weimar and Moritzburg, both in Germany. (Auf Wiedersehen! Or ’til we see each other again!)

Post a comment or send me an email if you have questions about any details.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), New York City


Until you’ve been to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, you won’t really have a good grasp or perspective on dinosaurs and the age in which they proliferated. The extensive displays, educational material and timelines were fascinating. Embarrassingly, it was my first time there, but I’m glad I finally made it up to myself and others.

While dinosaurs were found throughout the world, I had only heard about the dinosaur fossils and bones that were discovered in North America. Many of the intact fossils were found in swampy areas where the dinosaurs got stuck in the mud (literally). After the mud solidified to stone over millions of years and their bodies disintegrated, the dinosaurs became fossils. This enabled paleontologists to access many complete sets of bones for research. One of the early elephants, known as a mammut, was found locally in Newburgh, NY, in the back yard of Vassar!

The above photo shows a early rhino-like dinosaur. Below are photos of the mammut (with the elephant tusk), an early moose-like dinosaur and other pretty creepy looking animals. It seems that a huge meteor that hit somewhere in the Yucatan caused the extinction of dinosaurs around 65 million years ago. Only the birds that could fly were among the survivors, yet they too met an eventual decline.

Many of you familiar with San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park may not realize that it was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. He also designed New York’s Central Park. There are many similarities in shape and proportion, but Golden Gate Park is actually 20% larger. At the same time, the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco must have modeled the displays of animals after those in the AMNH. The displays of taxidermy (“stuffed animals”) reminded me the ones we took our kids to sketch in the Academy. (Kids can now stay overnight at the AMNH, just like in Ben Stiller’s “Night at the Museum” movie).

It’s no wonder that Teddy Roosevelt was so awed by the scale of these living creatures and initiated the National Parks so more people could see them. The Alaskan Brown Bear, bison and Alaskan moose were among my favorite exhibits, shown below.

I’m in a NY State of Mind…

Although Billy Joel has been performing at Madison Square Garden, I wasn’t able to see him because he’s off during the time I’m here. Nevertheless, the weather, cultural riches, and access to all forms of public transportation have sucked me in to see it, do it, and think it just like a local New Yorker.

On a recommendation from New Yawka Peter (who lives in HK), I was inspired to head back down to Nolita’s neighbor, Chinatown. The new Museum of Chinese in America was recently coined by Maya Lin, the young architect who designed the Vietnam Vets Memorial in Washington, DC. Tracing Chinese American history and seeing the Chinese diaspora felt like going home to an old but familiar story. Just like popular Italian operas, you recognize the tunes, the stories, the characters. Only the comedic element was missing.

Nevertheless, the timeline was well presented. The history of the railroads, promises of gold, through days of war, Nationalism, and Communism in the home country were captured efficiently. I learned about the achievements of many Chinese Americans whose names were not familiar to me. They included an astronaut, a prominent AIDS researcher, and a female pilot. Maya Lin and the museum curators did a decent job highlighting the right amount of information for visitors.

Photos, from top, left to right:
1. Display area
2. Restored storefront of Chinese shop
3. Sign that bears a chilling similarity to the anti-Islamic protests currently in Germany

This museum is worth a visit, for content and the Maya Lin oeuvre. You can see and hear her talk about it at

On a lighter note, the rest of my afternoon was devoted to seeing another theater production, “It’s Only a Play”, with Martin Short, Stockard Channing, and Matthew Broderick. Sorry to say, (to friend David, who was anxious to hear), that despite the big names, the script failed to keep the audience engaged. The actors were skilled at their craft, particularly my favorite Stockard Channing (from Grease and Six Degrees of Separation), but the story of the failure a Broadway play felt weak and contrived. It’s sad to think that the talents of so many were put to the task of delivering an uninspiring story, that ironically was the topic of the play.

The highlight of the evening was having a delightful dinner at Blue Hill on Washington Square with fellow architect Rik. We shared stories of being in the “order”, keeping up with the new techies, and fast-forward Chinese students. The food and service were impeccable, so definitely worth the cost of being entertained. Highly recommended.

Photos, from top, clockwise:
1. Thousand Year-old Egg and Pork Congee, Chinatown lunch
2. Mustard Relish for Bread, radishes from Stone Barn, and kohlrabi with cheese at Blue Hill;
3. Blue Hill dessert, sponge cake , apple crisp and ice cream

Coming up: Natural History Museum, Manon, and maybe the Neue Galerie on the final day in The Big Bad Apple.

Random Acts of Mindfulness

Take a look at some amusing signs I discovered on my brisk three mile walk this morning from Midtown to Nolita.

This shop caught my eye with a rare “full figure” mannequin next to a normal one. The detailed explanation earnestly states that a popular bra size is an H cup, the largest up to Size 56 with an N cup! (It’s worth tapping the photo to get a full screen reading of this public display). Amazing what you can learn on a morning stroll.

image I thought it was admirable for this supermarket to openly share their mission and core values with their customers, but I’m not sure how many have read it.

imageIn contending with this morning’s thaw, I thought it was ironic that this company couldn’t do much for improving the 25 degree (below zero in degrees Celsius) weather, even though they must be fine technicians.