The Production of European High Culture in Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Trust as Artificial Curiosity

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Essay Excerpt

My main interest in this article is in the much less known activities of the Trust that have been recently developed under Williams's administration behind the museum, so to speak, while appreciating how, in the meantime, the villa still powerfully stands for the organization and constitutes its primary identity. Since its opening, the Getty Museum has been written about in the by-now conventional genre of the high-brow, sophisticate's ridiculing appreciation of the Babylonian fantasy landscape of California, where the Getty has often been viewed alongside the Hearst Castle,Disneyland, etc. But the Getty, first the Museum and now the Trust powered by an unseen and mythic pyramid of gold, means to be taken seriously in its earnest and authenticating orientation to European high culture. The most interesting visitors/critics of the Museum, such as Joan Didion and Umberto Eco, have indeed written against the cliched trend of high-brow criticism, have noted the seriousness of purpose of the Getty, and indeed have taken it seriously in their brief commentaries. (Marcus, 315)

About the Author

George Marcus served as the Joseph D. Jamail Professor at Rice University, where he chaired the anthropology department for 25 years. He currently holds the position of Chancellor's Professor at the University of California, Irvine, where he established a Center for Ethnography, devoted to experiments and innovations in this form of inquiry.

"My projects continue to be explicitly collaborative and therefore I have become interested generally in the nature of collaborations at the core of the contemporary practice of diverse ethnographic research. I am interested in participating with others in the systematic rearticulation, and in some sense, reinvention, of the norms and forms of the classic modality of research in social/cultural anthropology: fieldwork with the writing of ethnography as outcome.

And I am interested in this project specifically in the pedagogical framework of producing graduate dissertations in newer topical arenas.

I am interested in how the marginal, incomplete, and belated specialty of the cultural/ethnographic study of elites in anthropology (subsuming the early projects of my career, in Tonga, on capitalist dynasties etc.) has become the means of pursuing an anthropology of contemporary change in most topical arenas. It is the necessity of working with experts and counterparts of various kinds as an orientation to fieldwork along with an abiding interest in the conditions of ordinary ,often subatlern life that generates the complexities of multi-sited research about which I have written.

Thus, my older interest in elites has become reinvigorated by asking what kinds of knowledge and what kinds of active participations from particular elites a project of critical ethnography that exceeds this orienting focus wants. In recent collaborations, I have pursued this interest in inquiries involving Portuguese nobles, European politicians, Latin american artists, U.S. bankers, and Brazilian intellectuals."

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