Sunday, October 23, 2005

Daily News Interview With Getty Trust President Barry Munitz!

Getty Trust's Barry Munitz sets things straight...

... seems to suggest the Daily News agrees Munitz is setting the record straight in the below interview as compared to what LA Times has written about him. I suspect (hope) that is not what the Daily News had intended to infer.

Though controversy swirls around him, Getty Trust President and CEO Barry Munitz weathers the storm calmly.

In the past year, Deborah Gribbon, the director of the museum - the most visible part of the trust - resigned amid rumors of conflict with Munitz. Then an investigation by Italian officials resulted in the curator of antiquities, Marion True, being charged with conspiring to traffic in looted antiquities.

Earlier this month True resigned, not as a result of the charges but over a loan arranged in 1995 by one of the museum's main suppliers of antiquities so she could buy a vacation home in Greece.

In June, a lengthy article in The Los Angeles Times raised questions about the way Munitz runs the nonprofit organization that is worth around $9 billion. Munitz, who has an annual compensation package worth about $1.2 million, was accused of lavish spending of trust money on first-class travel and extravagant dining. He was also accused of OK'ing a real-estate deal with Eli Broad that gave the billionaire businessman a $700,000 break.

The portrait was one of a man with "grand appetites" who prospered while the museum was experiencing cutbacks.

On Friday, Munitz sat in a conference room on the Getty "campus," and, in his first extensive interview on the recent controversies, addressed these issues with Daily News columnist Mariel Garza and entertainment editor Rob Lowman.

There is much more to read at the above link. Then come back for my response.

First, if Munitz is correct in saying the now infamous Porsche is used only for official business and that he never personally uses it (which would mean it does not go home with him at night), he has a potentially valid point for its purchase. However, one of its main uses appears to be picking up and taking board members and other guests from the airport, including chauffeur service, it appears. I do not see why they can not transport themselves when they come to LA.

As for the Eli Broad real estate deal, I know the hazards in appraising hillside land with all the geological, slope density formula and easement problems - so Broad could have easily paid full market value for the property. And the person willing to pay the highest price is often the adjoining property owner. But more needs to be known for anyone to make that determination and the process by which the transaction was handled, was clearly flawed in at least appearance.
Some of what Munitz said about the difficulties in buying antiquities is true, but he ignores - and the Daily News appears not to ask - about all the incriminating documents hidden from the board and from authorities by him - and that is the case against Munitz, not the purchase of antiquities - or the purchase of much of anything for that matter since the Getty's collecting has dramatically declined under his reign.

Munitz also makes something of a case on his salary if you compare it to the salary of his predecessor, but not if you compare it with the heads of other non-profits.

As for his claim he is tightly controlled by a tough and vigilant board, it's nice to see his problems have not affected his sense of humor. Even several of his own board members have been quoted on how clueless they are on what is going on at the Getty and how documents have been withheld from them.

And while Munitz denies in the article using Getty money for personal uses, he was no asked any specific questions in the printed interview. He did, however, bring up and defend his use of first class travel with absolutely... breathtaking... arrogance:

If you talk to anybody who knows me, you won't find anyone who describes me as an extravagant-living person. ... Part of it is a question of interpretation. To somebody who's never flown first-class, first-class is an extravagance. ... Those are silly things to me. I do what I'm asked do.

Now granted the above quotes have some gaps in them, but it appears Munitz feels that anyone (such as the heads of almost all other non-profits) who thinks flying first class at the non-profits expense is extravagant is being silly, since they can not recognize it is not a luxury, but a necessity. But it doesn't matter anyway, since it's not his fault - he was only following orders.

But the big issue that I and many, if not most people, in the Los Angeles art community have with the Getty is the total failure of the Getty to build a major painting collection. This is particularly inexcusable when the last masterpieces by major artist after major artist are vanishing - forever - into public collections.

My only complaint about the LA Times series of article is that failed to hang Munitz for his only real crime against Los Angeles. While it is nice to have restoration projects around the world, education programs around the world and research around the world, there are endless needs for those projects and those needs will be there five, ten and a hundred years from now.

But there are only a limited number of paintings of the highest quality left to buy from private collections and the Getty has already squandered the opportunity to develop a world class collection. The only hope now is that it can somehow move up from a fourth rate collection to a third rate collection in the future.

But not if Barry Munitz remains at head of the Getty Trust.

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