Saturday, January 10, 2009


It's impossible to take it all in.

The Getty Villa, Malibu, at the edge of the continent. It's a perfect day — remnants of fog from the ocean, but mostly flawless blue sky, and warm, mid-70s warm — and you and a handful of other visitors, plus the docents, have the run of the place.

You can't possibly take it all in. No matter how you try, there's just too much there to gorge the senses on. You have your limits.

The first indulgence, the obvious one, is the antiquities collection: The David. Athena. Jewelry and pottery shards. Maybe it's the energy of the archetypes that overwhelms you, their power and promise, resonating in you. We all respond to archetypes, some harmonizing with us more than others. They are part of our collective story, the one that reminds us we are both human and divine.

But more than the collection, you are intrigued by the architecture, the flesh and bones of the place. At the Villa, the wall sconces and marble columns and color palette are every bit as engaging, and you understand that nothing less than this would do to hold such massive works of human achievement.

In earthen vessels, wealth untold.

A temporary installment, the work of pop artist Jim Dines, holds your attention for almost as long. There are the wooden sculptures of the Greek statuettes of dancing women, painted wood female figures Dine has reinterpreted from his vantage point. And there is the sculpture of the poet's head, massive in the center of the room, every feature and flaw writ large for inspection.

But it is the poetry on the wall that catches your attention, the charcoal inscription of the verses of "The Flowering Sheets," in Dines' own hand, read on a loop in Dines' voice, that stops you. So you stand among the sculptures, diminutive next to the dancers and the artist's head, and read along with him, getting into his brain, thinking his thoughts, seeing things through his eyes.

It still hasn't settled in yet, the experience. And there is more to experience that you had to leave behind. Like after a decadent meal, in which you push the plate away reluctantly, knowing there is more to savor, knowing, too, that one more bite will ruin the entire evening. You leave wanting, until you realize that you already have it all.

Next time, when you've cleared some space and made room, it'll be there. Apart from sharing his collection, Mr. Getty has also shared something of equal value to you: The realization that great wealth is possible. The understanding that money is not, as you were led to believe, the root of all evil, but, in fact, a blessing. And the dawning idea that you have some major reconstruction to do — the excavation of a few deep-seeded beliefs, the installation of others that will better serve you, down the road — if you are going to be able to take it all in, to house the wealth of treasure you're only just beginning to awaken to.
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