Design Lessons at the Getty: ‘Taking Shape: Finding Sculpture in the Decorative Arts’ & ‘Made for Manufacture’ Unveiled


Previously published on


By Emily Waldorf

The Getty just unveiled two exciting complementary exhibitions on March 31stMade for Manufacture and Taking Shape:  Finding Sculpture in the Decorative Arts.  The two shows highlight some of the gems of the Getty permanent collection as well a few never before seen pieces on loan from historic Temple Newsam House in Yorkshire, England.  Made for Manufacture showcases the detailed three-dimensional drawings that artists prepared prior to creating works of decorative art, including stained glass, small-scale metalwork, sculpture and architecture, tableware, and tapestry.  These preparatory drawings are themselves fascinating mini-masterpieces, with a focus on the art of draughtmanship.

I had the pleasure of walking through the galleries with curator Charissa Bremer-David, who explained that Taking Shape was designed to explore the commonalities between works of sculpture and the decorative arts, which is a symbolic inquiry for the Getty, given the recent merger of the sculpture and decorative arts departments.  Fascinating Continental and English Baroque and Rococo pieces, ranging from a forest of human-sized candlestands to intricate wall lights, firedogs, and mirrors, were taken out of their original contexts to be shown off as individual works of art, against white walls, in a neutral space.  The Taking Shape exhibition also brought one of the Getty’s decorative art stars out of storage (due to concerns about damage), a theatrical gilt-wood side table attributed to Johann Paul Schor.



The following five questions were inscribed on the walls of the first gallery of Taking Shape and I thought they would be of particular interest to Decorati readers since they address fundamental design concerns:

1)  Scale:  Does size determine placement, and, therefore, function?

2) Number:  Does creating a single work of art – or multiple pairs or sets – change an objects status?

3)  Setting:  How does location influence our conception of an artwork?

4)  Material:  Does the medium’s solidity, fluidity, permanence or fragility impact our perceptions?

5)  Function:  Does use or utility affect our aesthetic appreciation?”

Taking Shape:  Finding Sculpture in the Decorative Arts and Made for Manufacture run through July 5, 2009 at the Getty Center.


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