Saturday, February 04, 2006

Brilliant Christopher Knight Article In LA Times On Getty Museum Future!

It's getting kind of scary. Almost daily the LA Times has articles about... Los Angeles. It's as if Martians have landed and taken over the LA Times.

OK - now for Knight's article. First read it. Then read my take on... his take.,0,2335413.story?coll=cl-home-more-channels

To begin with, Knight says the Getty now has two secluded tourist attractions and that they are separated from the daily rhythm of the city's urban fabric.

However, I don't feel this is necessarily a bad thing. We may not daily visit these places, but we now have two magnificent groupings of buildings complete with bucolic gardens and spectacular views and art collections; two unique escapes and respites from urban LA that are within the city.

Now for the first of Knight's five ideas on reforming the Getty. He feels the photo collection needs to be in a more visitor friendly location for several excellent reasons. What he does not say is since the Getty Center's building permit's restrictions prevent even a single square foot being added to the main campus, any new building for that collection has to be built off-site.

He suggests two sites and Grand Avenue is by far the better of the two locations. The problem, though, is that with the existing plans for Grand Avenue and the price of the land, it might be hard to fit the Getty in. Plus there is the pesky problem of what to do with MOCA since despite its two buildings - it still has no room for a serious permanent collection and barely enough room for the traveling and MOCA originated shows. So if there is going to be room for only one museum - it needs to be MOCA.

Additionally, MOCA does wish to expand along the Grand corridor, but it does not have the money to buy the land - and, additionally, raising the necessary funds will not be easy with so many competing capital campaigns for cultural and educational institutions.

So we need to find (essentially) free land for both, to develop a businesses plan to help finance the new buildings - and to find a way to have both institutions to expand within easy walking distance of Grand Avenue.

Now those of you who have attended my walking tours of Grand Avenue over the years know that the DWP Building(across from the Music Center) is surrounded by acres and acres of parking lots, parking garages and hillsides - along with a lengthy access road. You also know that this property runs all the way down to Figueroa from Hope Street.

This is the unspoken for site in the areas that contains acres and acres of unused or highly underutilized land. Plus the topography of this land can easily allow for far over a million square feet of new buildings WITHOUT obstructing the view from the wrap around terraces of the DWP building which are now the second greatest public space in LA since the Getty Museum was built.

So now we have the land. And I can already see a Pei styled Louver entry directly across from Disney Hall as the entrance of a sprawling megastructure wrapped around the DWP - all the way down to Figueroa and then over to Temple on three sides of the existing DWP Building. I can also see a hotel, shops, restaurants, art galleries and condos that would help pay for two museum's construction costs - along with added office space to cover future DWP's office needs, some of which might even be developed by the project developers in payment for the land.

Knight's second idea - which I can only hope is a joke - is to use an increase in the art buying budget - which is really just a return to previous way too low levels - to buy Contemporary and Asian & Latin American art instead of expanding its current inadequate collections.

Now this is just so... wrong, wrong, wrong.

First, there countless collectors buying these types of art (and the newly developing collectors also tend to buy this kind of art) - and there is no shortage of art to buy in these categories. Additionally, virtually no one in LA is buying what the Getty currently - or I should say - used to collect and every few months the last major - or even only - example of a great master's work vanishes into a museum, never to again reappear on the open market.

For this really, seriously bad idea, let us tightly roll up a copy of The Art Newspaper and strongly apply it to a certain art writer's snout.

Bad Christopher! Bad Christopher!

Third CK idea; have the Getty publish an international arts journal.

Agreed and I have opined on this before. I have nothing further to add to Knight's ideas here.

We'll now skip CK's fourth idea for the close and instead address Knight's fifth idea - the Getty holding an international art fair in Los Angeles. I have three additional takes on this.

First, invite ART COLOGNE do what ART BASEL is doing in Miami - an American branch that is ready to go. Then enlist LA INC. and Eli and the others to help bring that fair to LA and the convention center.

Second, also develop our own version of a non-profit DOCUMENTA type of event independent of the Cologne art fair at scattered venues all over the city and then also have a quirkier commercial side fair during that event.

Third, develop some art spaces to show what is going on in the rest of the world 365 days a year; shows such as what is happening in all the top galleries and non-commercial spaces in one city - or works by the top graduates of all the art universities of China or whatever strikes the fancy of the curators.

Lastly, there is Knight's fourth idea - and this starts to get scary as this is the fourth of his five ideas that I have also been proposing for the past ten years for the Getty.

He wants the Getty to purchase, restore and rent out to students and teachers some of the great residential structures in LA.

Now this is a wonderful concept, but, unfortunately, it does lack anything resembling a business plan and it only addresses the most easily saved type of structures in Los Angeles, single family homes. This is particularly so since so many buyers are now willing to buy and carefully restore those homes. Plus it misses out on a superb opportunity for the Getty.

First let's considered threatened single family homes in single family neighborhoods areas; the Getty can still buy these endangered homes, restore then, and then covenant both their exteriors and any interior features worth preserving and then resell those homes with the proviso that the covenanted features can not be changed and that the house would be examined each time title closes and that once or twice a year, each home must be held open for the public.

Now this might reduce the price a little (or not), but by doing this, the Getty will not have hundreds of millions tied up in essentially non-revenue producing properties which are still not on public view plus it will also not have the responsibility for maintaining these homes or paying property taxes on them which alone would come to far more than the rents collected under Knight's proposal.

Now my primary proposal in this vein was for the Getty to either buy threatened historic buildings of all kinds in situ or to move them when they are going to be demolished (and there is almost nothing that can not be moved) and then develop mixed use projects around them (using the finest upcoming architects) and have the historic building's qualities add value to the overall project.

The Getty would then keep the more income producing parts of the project and sell off any elements - such as the historic buildings, possibly - that will not create as much income in the future - but only after landmarking the historic buildings, of course

This way the Getty can re-fi these properties with 15 year mortgages that will be low enough to ensure cash flow and within 15 years not only will the buildings have appreciated - but the properties will also be completely paid off.

So we get historic preservation and an increase in the quality of the built environment in Los Angeles - and Getty Trust makes a ton of money.

Plus the Getty can also develop examples of specific LA building types - the two story apartment house, the hillside canyon hanger, a gas station, a small retail strip and infill condos - and have the best architects in LA demonstrate how great architecture can be created on a budget - and thus help elevate the level of spec building in LA.

Then with the fifteen year mortgages, the equity will build up faster than in stocks since there will be a cash flow higher than mere stock dividends plus depreciation plus there is leverage since on real estate you only have to put part of the cash down and - as the final bonus - if you trade up to another, larger property - if you do an 1031 exchange - you never have to pay one cent in capital gains taxes. And if the Getty needs money beyond the cash flow to run the Trust, they just refinance to pull out the cash.

Better art through better financial planning.

Works for me!


Anonymous said...

Is any of this likely to happen or possible when Barry Munitz remains in charge of the Getty?

And I keep reading about major art auctions, one just a few days ago in fact, where the Metropolitan Museum in New York and Kimbell in Fort Worth, Texas were listed as among the successful bidders, but with the Getty no where to be seen. I guess the requirements for Barry Munitz's lavish personal budget and interests (e.g., his desire to spend the trust's money on ventures far beyond the boundaries of L.A.) make the Getty's involvement in such events difficult.

Anonymous said...

Now that I've just read Christopher Knight's essay in its entirety, this passage in particular stands out:

"Under Barry Munitz, the Trust's current president, the grant program has ballooned. The Getty's website chirps that from 1985 to 2005 almost $220 million was awarded to projects in 175 countries around the world. But what it doesn't say is that more than half of that was given away since 2000. After the Getty Center opened and the acquisition budget plunged, the grant budget nearly tripled. The priority shift was cemented last year when the program was grandly renamed the Getty Foundation.

No doubt most funded projects, some of which are in Los Angeles, have intrinsic worth. Still, you have to wonder: Why should the Getty give, say, $750,000 to meritorious initiatives at Harvard University — whose own $26-billion endowment dwarfs the Getty's by a factor of five — when an endless list of equally exemplary art needs are scattered all over L.A.? Why carry coals to Newcastle?"

Simply put, the incompetent, idiotic Barry Munitz is ruining an important local cultural institution.

Will someone please get rid of him!

Tim said...

seems like the Getty could spin off the real estate acquisition project. Set it up as a profit-making enterprise with a small (relatively) initial investment. Restoring old homes would quickly become profitable under your sketched out plan and the monster bureauracracy can be left behind. It could easily support itself and do serious good in the area and become a model for other businesses to follow.

Oversight might require it to be, technically, a not for profit with profits being kept inside the organization. It would grow phenomenally fast and they would soon be looking for other ways to use the cash, such as restoring downtown's hills (just kidding).

Next time the Getty should hire an Angeleno to run the place. No one else cares aboout Los Angeles.

Anonymous said...

I think you should read this:

Still, the story [in Vanity Fair] is useful to Getty-watchers because it reveals two things: It reveals that Munitz essentially has no defense that explains away the problems the LAT has chronicled and that he is on thin ice. If the LAT's reporting was little more than a pack of vicious lies spread by a paper out to get Munitz, here was Munitz's chance to go point-counterpoint on that reporting. Munitz even had a sympathetic writer in front of him, one so in touch with Munitz's inner-self that three times in the story Munitz bursts into tears.

As far as Munitz's standing in Los Angeles and with his trustees: There are no board members in Ward's story who rise to Munitz's defense. There are no prominent Angelenos willing to defend Munitz and the Trust. The closest Ward gets to a defending-Barry quote is former Paramount head Sherry Lansing (you can see "Dr. Gary Munitz" [sic] presenting Lansing with an award here), who says: "The person that I have been reading about is not the person I know."

In other news, I wouldn't put it past Barry Munitz (or any of his flunkies) to have implemented this initiative as an ideal excuse to travel to New Orleans in the future during, hmm, Mardi Gras or some other holiday:

The Getty Foundation's Fund for New Orleans — to be announced today in New Orleans by officials of the Getty Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the city

As I wrote in a message above: Will someone please, please, please get RID of Munitz.