Thursday, June 09, 2005

Greed At The Getty! LA Times (Partially Redeems Itself) - But STILL Misses The Big Picture!!,0,4932458.story?coll=la-home-headlines

While the LA Times does a superb, wonderfully researched job of showing how Barry Munitz has looted the Getty for his own personal gain (and I have to admit that his borderline crimes are pretty entertainingly... Baroque)... the Times inexplicably ignores the two aspects of the story that most impact this city.

First, on the plus side, the LA Times impeccably covers and documents the over-the-top payments made by Munitz to friends and people he wanted to impress. But what the Times does not adequately cover, is the tendency of the Getty (i.e., Barry Munitz, since the two are now seemingly virtually the same entity) to fund very expensive projects everywhere in the world but in Los Angeles.

For years Munitz has been quietly cursed by many in the local art world for cutting off resources that could have helped comparatively art poor Los Angeles while he continued to rain down money around the world, making him a jet-set player in both the international art and social worlds.

But far worse than that, is the disgraceful record of art acquisitions under Munitz. As masterpiece after masterpiece - including some of the last examples by some of history's greatest painters have come to the auction block - in almost every case - the Getty has not even been a bidder. And with a finite number of these masterpieces left, the last chance for Los Angeles to have a world class pre-20th Century art museum is about to vanish forever under Munitz's reign.

And yet this fact - the one fact that is of most interest to art lovers in Los Angeles, and the only fact that has any long term impact on the civic life of LA is... totally unmentioned!

Only the (cough, cough) LA Times could write this story and totally focus on petty graft, and then miss the long term impacts of Munitz's policies on the city’s cultural life. But I guess since no one at the Times plans on being in LA for more than a few years, anyway - why should they care about the future of this city?

What is mentioned, though, is that even though the LA Getty has a very minor painting collection by international - or even national - standards, Munitz now wants to consider building multiple Getty's around the world, dispersing the already inadequate collection.

Also mentioned is the almost total freedom Munitz has been given to run with Getty by the 13 trustees - a number of whom live in on the East Coast, particularly in New York. But what it is not mentioned, is that they only meet four times a year - and that even then, it is not always in Los Angeles.

And, equally not mentione, is that most of these trustees have been virtually hand picked up Munitz, making the board simply an extension of his social life rather than a true board. The non-mention of these last facts is particularly puzzling as the Times has in the past called attention to these defects, and these defects are clearly the underlying reason for the problems that the article does address.

I can only hope that follow up articles are already written - or at least, planned. One needs to be done on the failure of the board to function... as an independent board or as a board that is run by people who live in this city. And another follow-up is needed ASAP by Christopher Knight on the disastrous legacy of Munitz in not building a museum.

To repeat myself, what was in the article was brilliantly done. But what was not in the article, was totally inexcusable... unless parts 2 and 3 of the story are to shortly follow.

Otherwise, the LA Times will once again have brilliantly told a story - except that it wasn't the story that should have been told.

Lastly, is it too much to hope that the LA Time writes an editorial calling for the head of Barry Munitz - and demanding that the Getty Board be immediately reconstituted with arts world professionals and LA based public watchdogs rather than asleep at the wheel social friends of the director?

Well... since you ask - yes!

It is far, far too much to expect.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I agree 100% with you. The real story is not that Munitz is who he is. The story is what he is doing that to our museum. He is a trustee; he has a fiduciary duty to us. J Paul Getty, who never saw his museum and lived half a world away, left his money to his LA museum because he always had a passion for art and he wanted people from LA to experience that art. He wanted to give people access to art, people who might not have access to Europe, where he widely traveled and lived. This nonsense of grants to foreign places, grants to universities, and a lack of emphasis on display and collection goes completely against J Paul Getty’s intent.

How much money does the Met or the National Gallery give to Harvard for building conservation? How many painting from the Kroller-Muller have those two institutions conserved? For free? How many millions do they spend on funding other institution’s scholars to do other institution’s work? I honestly pray that the suv rolls down to the 405. It's not his money and it's not his trust. The Getty can learn a lot from the Met, a museum poorer than the Getty by several billions. The Met bought a $40 million Duccio by getting the trustees to pony up some of the money and by using some of its endowment money for the likely last painting by a great master. The Met gets a collection of impressionist paintings far superior to the entire impressionist collection of the Getty for free! How? They court Leonore Annenberg, a very rich collector, electing her to the board, making her a part of a real organization. Who is Ramon C. Cortines? What does he know about art? What art does he own?

The Getty doesn’t know how to manage itself. It has been managed as though it lacked a sense of purpose. Each president succumbs to the power inherent in the throne of the castle and declares himself a dictator. The process is simple, the president nominates the board and within a couple of years the president is the board. A solution could be to expand the size of the board dramatically (from the current 12 to perhaps 24) and make some of the new seats outside the nomination of the trustee or of the board. For example, a seat could be given to the deans of the important art school in Los Angeles (UCLA, CalArts, USC, and Art Center), to museums with which the Getty does not compete and therefore has no conflict of interest (MOCA, the Hammer, and the Huntington Library), and, because the Getty is an international institution, the museum could give a rotating seat to the director of an important museum located outside America (Tate, Pompidou, or the Neue Nationalgalerie). Creating these seats would solve the Getty’s two perennial board problems: lack of independence and lack of knowledge about art and museum operation.

Twice I submitted letters to the LA Times but nothing came of it. The LA Times lacks the interest to launch a crusade to end the mismanagement of the Getty, whose endowment probably surpasses the combined endowment of all other art intuitions in Los Angeles by several billions. The LA Times is simply happy reporting on the story. Whatever happened to advocating for change?