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Entertainment & Arts

This art museum tour starts with a group cheer: ‘Dismantle the patriarchy!’

Kylie Holloway, who leads an unusual tour, tells the story of artist Artemisia Gentileschi in front of “Danae and the Shower of Gold,” by Artemisia’s father, Orazio Gentileschi, at the Getty Center.
Kylie Holloway, who leads an unusual tour, tells the story of artist Artemisia Gentileschi in front of “Danae and the Shower of Gold,” by Artemisia’s father, Orazio Gentileschi, at the Getty Center.
(Sharon Mizota)

Artemisia Gentileschi had a “unicorn dad.” Painter Orazio Gentileschi was one of the few 17th century Italian men who thought his daughter should have an education. When the painting tutor he hired, Agostino Tassi, raped Artemisia, her dad did another rare thing: He pursued the man in court.

Tassi was found guilty, although he got away with a slap on the wrist. It’s not surprising that around this time Artemisia completed her masterwork of female vengeance, “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” (circa 1612-13), in which Judith bears a striking resemblance to Artemisia herself.

I learned all of this while standing in front of “Danae and the Shower of Gold,” by Orazio, circa 1621-23. The story came not from the painting’s wall label, but from our guide for the afternoon, Kylie Holloway. On a recent Saturday, she led a group of about 10 people through the Getty Center on the Bad Ass Bitches of the Getty tour. It’s one of several “renegade tours” offered by the company Museum Hack at select U.S. institutions, although it is not affiliated with any of them.

Bad Ass Bitches, or BABs, focuses on the stories and achievements of women. It is all about looking critically at traditional art history through the lens of female empowerment. It’s also about making art more fun and engaging.

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We began the tour with a group cheer, standing in a circle, putting our hands in the center, chanting “Dismantle the patriarchy!” (in a museum whisper, of course).

Before heading into the galleries, Holloway gave a brief definition of feminism and a note about the language she would use, which might include F-bombs. Clearly, this was not going to be your mother’s museum tour.

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Holloway provided some sobering statistics. According to an audit of the galleries performed by Museum Hack, only two of the 28 pieces on view in the Getty Center’s sculpture garden are by women, and the permanent collection galleries display only three works by women out of approximately 1,000. A Getty spokeswoman disputed this count: The sculpture garden includes three works by women, two by Elisabeth Frink and one by Barbara Hepworth. She could not provide the number of female artists included in the collection, because the Getty does not keep track of artists’ gender. She did note that the photography and archival collections contain many more works by women than the painting and sculpture collections do.

As a result, most of the BABs we learned about, like Artemisia, were related to male artists whose work was on view, or they were the subjects of the works rather than the creators.

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Our first stop was a 15th century German stained glass portrait of Saint Margaret, who according to Catholic lore, became the patron saint of childbirth after she survived a burning at the stake, drowning and being fed to (and then regurgitated by) a dragon, all at the hands of a spurned pagan suitor who eventually martyred her by beheading. Clearly, being a strong-minded, independent woman in the Middle Ages was bad for your health.

One of the few works by a female artist we did see was the portrait “The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil” by Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun. This 18th century French artist learned to make art by disguising her painting lessons as instruction in how to use a fan. Although women were not allowed to join the artists’ guild, she persisted, eventually rising to become the court painter to Marie Antoinette. Holloway described her as a marketing and branding genius who depicted aristocrats the way they wanted to be seen. Her portraits of the queen, one of which Holloway displayed on an iPad, tried to soften her reputation as a hard-hearted dilettante by portraying her as a sympathetic, doting mother.

Tour guide Kylie Holloway tells the story of artist Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun in front of her “Portrait of the Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil” from 1785 at the Getty Center.
Tour guide Kylie Holloway tells the story of artist Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun in front of her portrait “The Vicomtesse de Vaudreuil” from 1785 at the Getty Center.
(Sharon Mizota)

In between these fascinating stories, Holloway sprinkled irreverent, “fun” activities. When we hit the 18th century galleries, we had five minutes to snap a picture of a woman in a painting who looked unhappy, and then share with the group about how we would “rescue” her, either by improving her situation or by altering or removing the painting itself.

Later, when we found ourselves in a sculpture garden filled with statues of naked and truncated female forms, Holloway took instant photos of us in poses of our own devising that addressed the women’s distorted bodies and wardrobe “malfunctions.” She gave us these photos as souvenirs, along with a pair of sunglasses labeled “#artbitch.”

At the end of the tour, we each received a Getty Center comment card, on which we were encouraged to advocate for the inclusion of more female artists. This action item was a small but nice follow-up to the inspiring stories of courage and perseverance we’d just heard.

I found some of the interactive portions of the tour superficial and a bit corny, but the younger, millennial members of the group seemed to enjoy them. Bringing games, imagination and creativity into the art viewing experience certainly makes the museum seem less stuffy and more relatable. Even if the art on the walls doesn’t fully reflect us, tours like this one encourage us to saunter confidently into the frame, as the bad ass bitches before us have done.

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Where: Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, L.A.

When: Saturdays, alternately at 11:30 a.m. or 2:30 p.m.

Tickets: $49

Info: www.museumhack.com
Sample what’s new at Various Small Fires, Steve Turner and Diane Rosenstein, plus get recommendations on other art galleries worth checking out.


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