Paris: Life & Luxury

The Getty Museum looks at the role of luxury in 18th-century France.

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Through Aug. 7

The Getty’s latest isn’t an exhibit so much as a total re-enactment, said Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. The museum’s “fascinating and often exquisite” look at the role of luxury in 18th-century France scraps standard display strategies. Instead, the galleries are arranged in “a carefully plotted sequence of 10 vignettes that intermingle paintings, furniture, porcelain, tapestries, clothing, and more, taking us through a single aristocratic day, morning to night.” One gallery features a painting of a mother and daughter in their dressing room; the girl holds a gilded box. It’s a beautiful portrait, but what makes it pop is that only a few steps away from the painting sits a box just like the one the girl holds. Seeing both together is “like witnessing a dizziness-inducing mash-up of analog and virtual reality”—and the experience is repeated many times in this “marvelous” exhibition.

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The Getty certainly has the goods to pull off such tricks, said William Poundstone in ArtInfo​.com. Ever the businessman, J. Paul Getty “knew that great 18th-century French furniture was undervalued relative to great European paintings of any period.” The museum’s holdings are thus superb. The drawback, of course, is that the decorative arts rarely draw crowds, even though our own era is “every bit as bling-happy as the ancien régime.” The Getty’s day-in-the-life conceit might be overcompensation; there seem to be clocks in every room reminding us of the curators’ “ruthless conceptual scheme.” But “no matter.” The objects are dazzling enough. If I had to name a favorite discovery, it would probably be the series of captivating canvases by Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Might he be “the last, best underrated painter of the French 18th century?”

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