October 29, 2014

The J. Paul Getty Museum Presents In Focus: Play

December 23, 2014–May 10, 2015
At the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center
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Summer, The Lower East Side, New York City, 1937. Weegee (Arthur Fellig). The J. Paul Getty Museum. © International Center of Photography

LOS ANGELES— In Focus: Play, on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from December 23, 2014 through May 10, 2015, presents photographs that explore how notions of leisure and play have been represented over the course of the medium’s history. The nearly thirty works from the Museum’s permanent collection highlight a wide range of amusing activities, from quiet games like chess to more boisterous forms of recreation like skateboarding and visits to amusement parks and circuses. All of the photographs included in the exhibition illustrate the many ways people have chosen to spend their free time. The images also demonstrate inventive and improvised approaches, like unusual vantage points and jarring juxtapositions that photographers have employed to help capture the spontaneity of playfulness.

Organized by assistant curator Arpad Kovacs in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, this exhibition spans almost 175 years of the medium’s history and features the work of a variety of well-known and lesser-known photographers, including Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Imogene Cunningham, Larry Fink, T. Lux Feininger, Roger Fenton, Andre Kertész, Man Ray, Alexander Rodchenko, Masato Seto, Camille Silvy, and Weegee, among others.

“Capturing our everyday lives has been one of photography’s central themes ever since its invention in the mid-nineteenth century,” says Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “So it is no surprise that images of people playing games and having fun is a rich seam within the history of photography that this exhibition and accompanying book bring to life brilliantly. This is photography at its entertaining and uplifting best.”

The introduction of photography in 1839 coincided with a bourgeoning culture of leisure. Changes in working and living conditions brought on by the Industrial Revolution created an unprecedented amount of free time for large numbers of people in Europe and the United States. In the 1850s, photographic studios began to capitalize on the development and growth of the tourism industry, promoting recreation as a photographic subject. Technological advancements in film and camera equipment during the early twentieth century facilitated the recording of dynamic activities such as sports and visits to amusement parks. Domestic and public spaces alike became sites where people performed for the camera and documented a break from daily routines.

During the nineteenth century, the eminent photographer Roger Fenton, who was widely recognized for visually documenting the Crimean War (1853-56), also photographed intimate scenes that reflected casual pastimes. Included in the exhibition is his photograph from 1858 entitled, The Billiard Room, Mentmore House, in which a group of six people act out a scene of domestic amusement in a billiard room lined with a row of large windows.

The desire for pictures of everyday life flourished during the early twentieth-century. The illustrated press, which had grown in popularity in the United States and Europe since the 1920s, was especially interested in photographs of recreation and leisure. Photojournalists often searched for high-impact images that could tell compelling or amusing stories.

Weegee (Arthur Fellig), a well-known tabloid photographer, kept his camera focused on New York City’s neighborhoods. In the photograph Summer, Lower East Side, New York City, 1937, he recorded the ecstatic faces of boys and girls cooling off in the water from an open fire hydrant as they briefly co-opted a street for their own delight.

Tourist destinations with sweeping vistas, like Niagara Falls and Yosemite Valley, had been attracting photographers continuously since the 1850s. In a 1980 photograph from his Sightseer series, Roger Minick comments on the phenomenon of taking in the sights through visual juxtaposition. A tourist, seen from behind, obstructs the famous view of Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point, a spot that is practically synonymous with photography. The woman wears a souvenir headscarf illustrated with views of the valley, underscoring the commodification of nature that pervades modern life.

In the 1990s, the photographer Lauren Greenfield began an ambitious project documenting various subcultures in Los Angeles. These works examine the social pecking order and rites of passage associated with youth culture. In her photograph “Free Sex” Party Crew Party, East Los Angeles, 1993, one gets a glimpse into the potential dangers associated with these wild demonstrations of unrestricted freedom and machismo.

“The photographs chosen for this exhibition demonstrate the wide range of approaches photographers have employed to capture people at play, along with a variety of sites that have traditionally signaled leisure and entertainment,” said Kovacs. “Visiting a museum would be included on that list of leisure-time activities. I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon.”

In Focus: Play is on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center beginning December 23, 2014, through May 10, 2015.

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A variety of special programs complement the exhibition. All events are free, unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call (310) 440-7300 or visit

The Art of Playing
Cherise Smith, professor of art and art history at the University of Texas, Austin, and her brother, retired professional baseball player Gary Matthews Jr., discuss the complicated boundaries between work and leisure from the perspective of two professionals whose careers many people associate with leisure activities.
Sunday, April 12, 3:00 p.m.
Getty Center: Museum Lecture Hall

Curator’s Gallery Talk
Arpad Kovacs, assistant curator of photography, the J. Paul Getty Museum, leads a talk on the exhibition. Meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.
Thursday, February 5, 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday, March 10, 2:30 p.m.
Getty Center: Museum galleries

Family Activity
Family Festival
We’re turning the Getty Center into a gigantic playground for this daylong festival celebrating the simple act of play in all of its forms. From schoolyard games to a pop-up adventure playground, there’s something for every generation in this fun-filled day. Storytelling and music mix with pattycake, cat’s cradle, hopscotch, chess, cards, board games, caroms, and even a Getty-wide scavenger hunt. Get your game face on!
Saturday, March 28, 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
Getty Center: Museum Courtyard

Publications are available in the Getty Museum Store, by calling (310) 440-7333, or online at

Photography and Play
Erin C. Garcia
(Hardcover, $9.95)

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The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts, and photographs gathered internationally. The Museum’s mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.

Visiting the Getty Center
The Getty Center is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed Monday and most major holidays, open on July 4. Admission to the Getty Center is always free. Parking is $15 per car, but reduced to $10 after 5 p.m. on Saturdays and for evening events throughout the week. No reservation is required for parking or general admission. Reservations are required for event seating and groups of 15 or more. Please call (310) 440-7300 (English or Spanish) for reservations and information. The TTY line for callers who are deaf or hearing impaired is (310) 440-7305. The Getty Center is at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California.

Same-day parking at both Museum locations (Getty Center and Getty Villa) is available for $15 through the Getty’s Pay Once, Park Twice program.

Additional information is available at

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