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New Getty exhibit gives metropolis the wide-angle treatment

"Urban Panoramas" opening at the Getty

People who love art are often as interesting as the art itself, which may explain my endless fascination with the Getty Museum.  Beyond its acres of architecture and paintings, the Getty’s grad-school-like academic culture serves as a reminder that there’s more to Angelenos than business and industry.  Gracious, bespectacled Taiwanese photographer Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao is this fine-art counter-culture’s most recent inductee.  The youngest of three artists to contribute to the museum’s new URBAN PANORAMAS exhibit, he also seems the least concerned about hiding his excitement.

Pointing to the century-old Frederick H. Evans photos on the next wall, Liao tells me breathlessly that he worked not so long ago at a New York preservation shop, blowing the dust off Evans’s negatives.  Now their work hangs side-by-side.  Liao shot New York City from the route of the #7 subway, an endeavor he compares to taking a sojourn down a country river.  Each of his intricate, 180-degree photographs is actually a composite of twelve to fifteen shots, giving the viewer a wider, more detailed vision of the city than would be visible to the naked eye.  Blow them up to wall size and you can see the dimples on the fruit vendors’ oranges.  The technical achievement alone is worth the trip, but Liao’s stitched-together pieces also give viewers the eerie satisfaction of enjoying a moment that never existed to point a camera at.

Our own Los Angeles gets the panoramic treatment in Catherine Opie’s gallery, which focuses on the city’s parade of mini-malls.  Aware that freeway users rarely pause to examine their surroundings, Opie trained her lens on the overlooked boxes of tan stucco that have sprung up all around us.  Weaving drama from a street-corner Pizza Hut, its neighboring El Pollo Loco, and a Mom-and-Pop eatery in the same complex, she makes franchise eatery competition seem as gripping as the Italian opera.

Finally, South Korean-born Soo Kim photographed Reykjavic, the surprisingly vibrant capital of Iceland, from a single vantage point during its summer solstice.  By cutting slices from one picture and layering the result atop another (“Each photo has a partner,” she explains simply after fielding a dozen questions about the process) Kim creates three-dimensional works that are the most immediately eye-catching in the exhibit.  There’s a unique mystery built into each one: the underlying image is never fully seen, although their natural elements can often be glimpsed.  “I remove the skin of a building,” she says, “and then a bush or the water pops out."

Captivating for anyone with an interest in architecture, urban living, or image manipulation, the URBAN PANORAMAS exhibit will be open through June 6th alongside the Evans gallery.  Admission to the Getty is free after parking fees.


  • Alison Marsh 5 years ago

    I enjoyed your article on the new Getty exhibit. My husband and I will be in LA next weekend (2/12-2/15). Do you have any other recommendations for things to do while we are in the area?

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