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The Getty High Above The City Britt



ATHENS, May 4, 2006 - The Greek authorities said Thursday that they would press charges against… the former antiquities curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles…”

“Greek authorities today raided the villa of Marion True, ex-curator of the Getty…”

“…Getty Chief executive Barry Munitz resigned amid an inquiry by the California attorney general into allegations of financial impropriety.”


Update August 2, 2007: According to today's Los Angeles Times The J. Paul Getty Museum has copped a plea and agreed to return 40 (forty) antiquities looted from Italy.


ALMOST IMMEDIATELY I will describe a recent experience that I had at the J. Paul Getty Museum, high above the city of Los Angeles.

And then I will also make observations about the alleged illegal activity at The Getty referenced above and what might seem to some to be an atmosphere of criminality at The Getty.

And lastly I will comment on an apparent Getty policy regarding the treatment of the common folk, the rabble, when there are dignitaries on the premises. During my recent visit those dignitaries were the Mayor of Los Angeles and the President of Mexico, who came to the Getty to have dinner and have their picture taken a few Fridays ago; and in doing so required the premature closing of The Getty and the eviction of the rabble. But I do not want to pre-judge those dignitaries, nor should we pre-judge their attendants, to include those individuals who seemingly have no neck.

Nor will I denigrate the administration and staff of the Getty, high above the city. And by that descriptive phrase I mean only that the Getty complex has some altitude, is on a hill above the city, and not that, given the recent acccusations of criminal misconduct at the Getty, the administration and staff seem to be high. On a substance that had been secreted in a shipping container of stolen antiquities, for example.

But before continuing, let’s just stop for a moment of poetry appreciation and a long quote from an old poem. “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.


I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read….

And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.


The above quote reflects a new policy here at VERITAS: of attempting to appear literate literary by randomly quoting old poems and has no bearing on the subject at hand.

So let's move ahead now, trunkless, fearless, with scrupulous care, and with great attention to detail: My recent experience at The Getty. Let’s examine it. Almost as if we had in front of us a box of shards from a broken krater (or bowl) found on the floor of the Aegean near a sunken trireme and were attempting to do the delicate work of restoration while high on something. Restore the krater, not the trireme. Who cares about an ancient vessel having three banks of oars when there’s a broken krater around? And those are "oars" on the trireme not "whores." Even though a recently disgraced director of the Getty was said to have given some great parties. And given the recent prosecutions of Getty hit men and dealers curators, disgrace is a relative term.


I think that I’ll describe my recent experience at the Getty now and call my story…

My Recent Experience at The Getty


When Catherine and I got off the bus right in front of the Getty a few Fridays ago we were met with the sight of several mouth-breather-type protesters carrying signs that read “No Amnesty” and “Go Back to Mexico Little Brown People.” These signs were very confusing to me. Because I was at the Getty I could have understood a protest sign that read, “Criminals belong on the Street—Not High Above the City,” but what were these protesters on about? Only later would we find out.

We walked into the grounds of the Getty Center proper, past the tram stop and onto the walkway that leads up the hill to the Getty Complex, high above Los Angeles. Catherine and I chose to walk in order to avoid the Getty Cartoon Characters that sometimes ride the trams, ostensibly to give away brochures. However the last time we had ridden a tram, a particularly insistent character, who was dressed as J. Paul Getty himself, grabbed my arm—difficult given his giant cartoon gloves—and said, “Need grass? Great ganja. Fruity juice. Skunk. I got it.”

I think I know what he was talking about, and it was very disturbing to me in that I stopped doing drugs when I left Venice thirty years ago; I now concentrate on the clear legal stuff in a bottle.

So after that experience on the tram and because I don’t want to be tempted, we always walk up the hill; and it’s usually a very pleasant walk. But on this day, as we approached the complex itself, high above Los Angeles, we began to see men in trees, and behind bushes that line the walkway, all talking into their hands and giving us the once over.

“What gives?” I said to Catherine.

“Beats me,” she said. “But let’s just get up the hill. Don’t look at them. Don’t get in trouble the way you do at airports. I don’t want you arrested. There is a photography exhibit I need to see and then we can eat in the cafeteria. I’m starved.”

“Me too,” I said.

Truth is I only go to The Getty to eat in their cafeteria, have a little of their decent wine and watch people; I have no interest in their collections. I believe that the last collection I saw there—one which encouraged me to never return to their galleries—was “Great Draperies of the World,” a collection of window treatments throughout the centuries. And all of their paintings, except for one by Edvärd Munch, seem to be portraits of old men who look like J. Paul Getty, along with their wives, who also look like J. Paul Getty.

So when we go to the Getty, Cathy looks at photographs and I look at people, particularly the people who work there. I’ll sit in the courtyard in front of the reflecting pool and watch the Getty staff—researchers, restorers, seamstresses, security people—as they come out of the Getty offices and stroll by. Laughing, laughing, god do they laugh. And occasionally they will stop and cough violently.

So I was sitting there enjoying the show when I noticed these muscular types skulking about. Had big lapel pins on their huge suits. Flag of Mexico and the flag of the City of Los Angeles, which is red and contains an image of the city seal, with a beach ball on his nose.

“Why are those no-necks here?’ I posited.

But no one could hear me even when I screamed it: “Why in the hell are there no-necks here?” I have a bit of a problem with authority types.

And the reason that I couldn’t be heard, even when I stood on a table and screamed was because rappers were rehearsing for “Fridays Off The 405” the new educational activity sponsored by the Getty Trust. Well, if you’re going to sell drugs, you need a crowd. “Blending art and electronica,” the Getty website says. Right. More like, “Blending crack and grass, and ecstasy.”

Still I needed to know about the no-necks so I walked up to a Getty security guard who was hiding behind a column and said, “You have a little bit of…there’s some white powder around your nose.”

“Oh, thanks,” he said.

“Say, I was just wondering, why so much outside security?”

And he said, “Need any grass, any hash? Speed?”

“No, no thanks,” I said.

“Okay. The new exhibit is ‘Tiny Plaster Things from Japan’ and it’s over there.” He pointed in the direction of the San Diego freeway.

“Oh no, no thanks. But I was wondering about all the security.”

“Here, hold my radio. I need another hit.” He reached into his pocket. And as he was doing a few lines he said, between snorts, “Oh, the mayor of L.A. and the president of Mexico are here, coming here for dinner, have their pictures taken. We’re closing soon.”

“Wait a sec,” I said. “You mean the cafeteria, the restaurant are closing?”

“Hell, yes. I just said they were. What are you, deaf? Why are you looking at me? I’ve got a gun, you know. And a knife.” His eyes were very red and tiny.

“Thanks, man. Thanks, I’m cool. No problem. Thanks.” I moved away, backed up. Fast.

I called Cathy on my cell.

“Let’s get out of here.”

“What about dinner?”

“The place is closing. Besides everybody’s on drugs. Or dealing. Or both.”


“Come on. I’m not joking. I’ll meet you at the Sistine Chapel Ride. I’m already there.”

“Where’s that?”

“You can’t miss it. Everybody’s on their back whizzing around, holding water guns shaped like paint brushes. Getty staff is on it now. Laughing like hell, coughing. Very loud. You can’t miss it. Near the tram. Hurry up. This place is dangerous. Hurry, Cathy!”


We made it out safely. On the way to the bus stop I walked up to one of the protesters.

“Are you a specialist type protester or do you have other causes?”

“Oh, I protest everything. Not just those Mexicans taking all our jobs.”

“Right. Great. I need to talk to you for just a sec. Got another protest for you. Are you tough on crime? And do you know how to spell ‘Ozymandias’?” ###

23 June 2006

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