Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bernini at the Getty


It’s hard to imagine there will ever be a bigger, better show at the Getty Center than "Bernini and the Birth of Baroque Portrait Sculpture" -- judged by the art-historical heft of what’s been packed up and put on view in Brentwood. Of course, there can't be a bigger show. Meier's pavilion is rigorously tailored to the visitor's presumed attention span. (To my mind, it hits it just about right.) This show is a slim, trim 60 objects or so, not all by Bernini, and that includes a room of portrait drawings (by Bernini, and one of the high points) and some paintings that could have been cut without loss. For the first time since the recent unpleasantness, Italy has lent multiple textbook masterpieces, including Scipione Borghese and Costanza Bonarelli.
Since the 1997 opening, the Getty exhibition pavilion has slowly come up in the world. The first few years they showed laudible yet obscure figures like Dosso Dossi and Adriaen de Vries. For a while, it looked like this was the Pavilion of the Worthy Though Forgotten. Gradually they kicked up the mix to include, not full retrospectives but Overlooked Phases of Artists Who Were Not in Fact Forgotten. This is the first show that feels like a retrospective of an unquestionably first-rate artist. It's not actually that, since it's a portrait bust show that includes several pieces by Bernini's contemporaries. But Bernini's full-length figures are not much more likely to travel than the fountains and the architecture are. This is about as good as a Bernini loan show can get.

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