Finally - the REAL scandal at the Getty!
After Barry Munitz's softball interview with the Daily News produced a puff piece, Barry Munitz decided to take his show on the road; a two hour appearance - complete with PR handler, of course - before a New York Times reporter.
After reading today's article, he will not make that mistake again.
Rift Grows, Challenging Getty Museum's Leadership
By RANDY ROBERT
.... Barry Munitz, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, had invited his good friends Sherry Lansing, then the chairwoman of Paramount Pictures, and her husband, the director William Friedkin, to dinner last year in a house used for parties at the hilltop Getty complex in Los Angeles.
Because the couple collect Dutch art, Mr. Munitz wanted to impress them by having two 17th-century drawings by the Dutch artist Herman van Swanevelt from the Getty Museum taken to be displayed at the house.
Museum officials, who said they felt that the event was more about socializing than about wooing important collectors, protested. They argued that moving the drawings posed too many risks, and that the climate control in the house was inadequate for fragile works on paper.
The drawings were moved anyway.
Later in the article:
"One of the most alarming things for me was that it was such a clear-cut demonstration of Barry's lack of concern for the works of art," said Ms. Whitney, who was about to depart from the museum around the time of the incident.
Mr. Munitz insists that the drawings were adequately protected, and he defended having used them to entertain Ms. Lansing and Mr. Friedkin. "The goal was to try to get them more interested in the institution," he said.
Asked whether the couple had a significant art collection, he said, "They are interesting collectors who are beginning to build a collection." He added that in campaigning on behalf of the museum, "you don't start with people that you don't know - you start with people you know."
And back to earlier in the article...
Today the Getty is under siege. Its former antiquities curator faces an indictment in Italy, and allegations of lavish travel by Mr. Munitz have led to a wide-ranging investigation by the California attorney general into the trust's finances.
Overlooked in these controversies, some of Mr. Munitz's critics say, is the harm suffered by the museum itself, including acquisitions, curatorial choices and departures by talented staff members who bridled at Mr. Munitz's decisions and style.
In 1982, when the museum received the estate of the oilman J. Paul Getty, it instantly became one of the world's wealthiest. Given that it had six times more money than its next-richest American sibling, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, competing institutions anxiously waited to see how that fortune would reshape the museum world.
Over the next two decades, the Getty grew significantly, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to enlarge its collection. But many critics say it has failed to live up to its early promise, a problem even before Mr. Munitz's arrival.
And far from tilting the playing field with its money, the Getty - which has lost several high-profile bidding battles for artwork in the last few years - has recently begun to see that it cannot buy its way to greatness. It has decided to devote itself to what its poorer colleagues have always done: seeking donations of world-class private collections.
Yet the museum is facing serious questions about its worthiness as a home for such collections. Most of these questions revolve around the structure of the trust, its board and Mr. Munitz, who has overseen the museum and the trust's other art programs for eight years.
... several former and current museum employees complain that Mr. Munitz - who has no background in art - has significantly interfered with the museum's curatorial operations and demoralized much of its staff by imposing his own vision in several crucial areas, disregarding or overruling many museum decisions.
They describe a frustrating work environment in which Mr. Munitz has formed strong alliances with art institutions in England and Germany, and insisted on collaborating with them. While this has sometimes yielded loans of impressive works, they say, it has consumed time and resources that could have been directed elsewhere, organizing exhibitions that better illuminated its core collection of European paintings and Greek and Roman antiquities.
As a result, they say, the museum's direction often appears erratic, and its reputation has suffered nationally and globally.
Critics say that Mr. Munitz - with the support of a board that includes many of his friends and allies, few with backgrounds as dedicated collectors - has placed far less emphasis on the museum than his predecessor, Harold M. Williams, did.
The amount of money annually available to the museum for buying art, for example, has dropped to among the lowest levels ever. And Mr. Munitz has recently built what critics see as ill-advised alliances - some accompanied by multimillion-dollar grants - with the State Art Collections in Dresden, Germany; with the Courtauld Institute of Art in London; and with Chatsworth, one of England's grandest estates, which houses the Duke of Devonshire's art collection.
These partnerships have been a source of frustration within the museum, where some curators question their value. Some of the Courtauld's most important masterpieces, for example, cannot leave London because of restrictions in the will of their donor.
"The Courtauld, Chatsworth and Dresden initiatives are Barry's," said a former museum employee. "They are not necessarily projects that the museum would have otherwise undertaken."
Grants awarded by the Getty have risen to around $30 million a year, compared with $10 million a year in the mid- to late 1990's, even as money for buying art for the museum has declined to about $20 million budgeted for this fiscal year.
(In the past, the average was about $46 million a year, though in 2003, when the Getty paid a reported $70 million for a Titian masterpiece, the museum spent around $100 million.)
Speaking Up for Himself
In an interview that lasted almost two hours, Mr. Munitz - who earns $635,000 a year as well as retirement benefits that make his overall compensation about $1.2 million - was rarely defensive as he talked about the trust's recent troubles.
OK - let's do some math. The Getty Trust has over five billion dollars in its endowment. Figuring you earn even - 5% on that - that should throw off about 250,000,000 in spendable cash - easily. And yet, all they can spare to spend on art for Los Angeles is... 20 million... in a market where masterpieces sell for between 20 and 100 million. And this figure is less than half of what they used to spend.
Meanwhile, Munitz is giving grants to some of the richest institutions in the world totaling $30 million a year - three times what he used to give. And his own salary alone is 6% of the entire budget to acquire art.
.... he (Munitz) was accompanied by a public relations executive who specializes in crisis management, and he expressed exasperation with his critics at the museum. "Part of the frustration," Mr. Munitz said, "is people didn't come to me and say - from the museum - 'If you head in this direction, this a problem,' or 'Please don't do that,' or 'It's embarrassing here,' or 'It's awkward there.' Never. I promise."
But those who have dealt with Mr. Munitz said they did speak up, although his staff often insulated him and made communication difficult. And they added that when they did object openly to his decisions, he frequently overruled them. They cite the incident involving the dinner party and the drawings as a prime example, one that angered and embarrassed the museum staff.
Mr. Munitz's critics complain that many of the people he knows best tend to be ones who cannot much help the Getty.
Mr. Broad, for example, is a renowned collector, but he specializes in contemporary art. Works he owns are to be displayed in a new building that will be part of the Los Angeles County Museum.
Mr. Munitz also has close ties to Lord Rothschild, the English banker and arts patron, a relationship that has led to much deeper involvement by the Getty with the Courtauld Institute, a respected teaching center and museum. The Getty is in the process of giving it a $12 million gift.
Lord Rothschild praised the links between the two institutions. "I think it's been a very symbiotic and positive relationship, both for the Courtauld and for the Getty," he said. But some at the Getty say that the Courtauld will get far more out of the relationship than the Getty ever will.
So... one of the richest art institutions in the world, with an art collection far superior to every art collection in this city put together - an art collection supported by both the British government and some of the richest patrons in the world including the Rothschilds - is being given $12 million dollars by a Los Angeles based trust while only $20 million can be scraped together to buy art... for Los Angeles.
Mr. Biggs said that while he believed there was "a legitimate policy issue driving some people's concerns" within the museum, he said that such anger should be directed primarily at the board, which sets the institution's priorities, not at Mr. Munitz.
Legitimate policy issue? If any other city's richest art museum said it can't buy art for its own collection because it sent all of its money to other art museums far richer in art - the heads of those museums leaders would be sticking on pikes in front of those museums.
But critics inside and outside the museum complain that the board has been increasingly disengaged from the issues facing the museum. And, they say, because the board is made up of many of Mr. Munitz's business-world friends - including the billionaire investor Ronald W. Burkle and Jay Wintrob, an insurance executive and protege of Mr. Broad's - there are few checks and balances on Mr. Munitz.
In 2003, for example, he asked several senior officials of the museum and of other Getty programs to fly to England for a meeting at Chatsworth in Derbyshire to explore a partnership and possible loans from its collection, including its old master drawings, considered among the world's best.
Some museum officials, however, said they felt that a partnership with the Chatsworth did not make much sense for the Getty and that the drawings would not make a particularly interesting loan because many had been shown in the United States several times, some as recently as 1996, in an exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan Library.
Barbara Whitney, who left the museum last year as its associate director for administration and public affairs, said there was widespread dissatisfaction with Mr. Munitz's plan, "yet nobody felt they could say no." Ms. Whitney and other persistent critics of Mr. Munitz said there was a feeling that his initiatives were making the Getty seem erratic and hurting its reputation.
"The Getty worked very hard for two decades to build its credibility in the art world, in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, by being very selective about the projects it took on and only doing things that fit the mission and added value," said Ms. Whitney, who now works as a private-school administrator.
"Many of us have become concerned in recent years that Munitz is diminishing that credibility through grants and partnerships that don't make much sense, either for the Getty or the partners."
And - lastly - from earlier in the article - the crux of the Getty's problem - and the true shame of the Getty:
The departure last year of the museum's previous director, Deborah Gribbon, who cited philosophical differences with Mr. Munitz, was in large part a response to such interference, said former and current employees, most speaking on condition of anonymity, partly because of fears of reprisals against current staff members.
And they characterized many of Mr. Munitz's initiatives at home and around the world as propelled more by his social aspirations and connections than by considerations of what was best for the museum.
And there is the real scandal; the reason why Barry Munitz, John Biggs and every member of the Getty board needs to resign.
Instead of running a museum and an art institution for the people of Los Angeles, the Getty Trust's rubber stamp board - under the direct leadership of John Biggs, is using the Getty's billions to further Barry Munitz's social aspirations.
Oh -- and one last irony. The Courtland Institute can use some extra cash since they not long ago had to spend many millions to build new galleries:
The catalyst for this ambitious project was the gift to the nation of the magnificent Gilbert Collection of gold, silver and mosaics, and the subsequent financial support provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the development of a new museum here to house these works of art.
And for those with short memories - that magnificent collection was going to be given to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art - until that board of directors refused to house this priceless collection. It was then quickly accepted as a gift by the very grateful London museum that Barry Munitz is now going to gift another twelve million dollars.
And one final irony; should the Getty ever resume serious art buying - the competition will be well funded as every dollar the Barry Munitz gives them for programs - frees up more money for them to buy art for their museums.