A few days apart, we Angelenos lost two major players in the cultural life of our city. First came the shocking news of the untimely death at age 69 of James Wood, the President and CEO of the Getty Trust. And then we learned about Ernest Fleischmann, former managing director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who, after a long illness, passed away at age 85.
Everyone who got the chance to meet James Wood knew to call him Jim, and in a sharp departure from his predecessors, he was a much-respected and admired art world insider, with boundless enthusiasm for Art and Culture. Through the years, I've had the good fortune to establish solid professional relationships with all former and current directors of the Getty Museum, but until Jim Wood arrived on the scene a little more than three years ago, I couldn't imagine an easy, matter-of-fact conversation with any of the CEO’s of this formidable institution. His two predecessors were inaccessible, remote to the point of being aloof, and clearly had to make an effort to mingle with the regular art crowd during museum openings and special events. But not Jim; he was friendly, even chatty on occasion, and always curious. One would see him and his wife Emese not only at lectures and events at his own institution, but at galleries, museums and concerts all over town.
When I met him, soon after he and Emese moved to LA, I realized, to my astonishment and delight, that we had mutual Russian friends in St. Petersburg. As director of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1980-2004, Jim established personal and professional relationships with all the major players on the national and international art scene, and he and a curator friend of mine at the State Hermitage Museum were not only colleagues, but buddies. In one of the first emails we exchanged, he wrote jokingly, "The ways of the Lord are truly mysterious," in reference to the improbability of our Russian connection. And then he added, "L.A. is clearly going to be an adventure, and I feel we are off to a very propitious start."
Assuming the leadership of the Getty Trust at a time of deep trouble, Jim Wood restored confidence in this multi-pronged institution and left it in much better shape. Many of his friends and colleagues note wistfully that Jim not only accomplished a great deal, but also managed to 'exit' at the top of his game.
Ernest Fleischmann, one of the great cultural leaders of our city, was a brilliant talent scout who, during his nearly thirty years at the LA Phil, brought to Los Angeles such major talents as Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, and Pierre Boulez. He also discovered younger generation music stars such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel. In the process, he raised the profile of the LA Phil and established its reputation as one of the leading orchestras in the world. And thanks to his vision, persistence and perseverance, Frank Gehry's Disney Hall - one of Fleischmann's impossible dream projects – was not only resurrected after nearly everyone gave up on it, but was put back on track and ultimately built, in all its architectural glory. Can you think of a more glamorous monument to this Man of Music?
Banner image: James N. Wood, President and CEO of the Getty Trust; image courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum, via the Associated Press