At the Getty, you have a variety of fine dining options. One of them is the Getty Cheeseburger, which is primarily distinguishable from normal cheeseburgers by the skilled deployment of “Getty Sauce.” Getty sauce is, as far as I can tell, none other than the “special sauce” which makes the “Big Mac” the hautest of high cuisine, identical down to its tender salmon shade. And while the burger is of a slightly higher quality, I think, there’s something charming about this evolutionary convergence.
The ways a museum becomes a treasure house of western culture in the name not of the public but of a famous American “industrialist” is, of course, weird enough when you think about it, and says something about how weird the process of naming things by buying them is. Nowhere more clearly than in a museum like the Getty do you get the sense of a culture defined by its things, an idea of “the West” defined by the art-objects we consume (or should consume). Yet the museum is dedicated not to the artists who made them, or to the culture heroes whose Spirit drove History on its rendezvous with Hegel, but to an otherwise unlovely soul, J. Paul Getty. Perhaps it’s because that “should” carries so much weight? After all, the “we” that comes into existence by reference to our things is a product of a careful cultivation of a sense of taste, a discriminating discrimination by which we tell who is us and who isn’t. And out of that discrimination comes people who are more us than we are, the true patrons of the arts who buy things instead of merely consume them.
Thus, perhaps, J. Paul Getty rises to the top, naming and possessing a thing to which he would otherwise have no claim. Like old people trying to be nice enough to their grandchildren to get into heaven, art is a money laundromat for washing all that blood and dirt off. Yet, like the eternal return of the repressed, or M’s long odyssey through C on the way to the bosom of M, it’s hard not to note that the Getty Cheeseburger tastes an awfully lot like a familiar icon of world capitalism. Good thing it’s wrapped in a museum, instead of wax-paper.