In a rare example of journalistic tenacity, the Los Angeles Times continues to pursue the sad unraveling of the Getty Trust's corporate fa-ade. Two Times correspondents have been traveling in Italy gathering the facts about a number of the Greek and Roman antiquities in American museum collections that Italian authorities believe to be illegally excavated and sneaked out of their country. Now, the Italians are not only demanding the return of dozens of rare artifacts from the Getty, but from the Metropolitan Museum in New York as well.
One of the most famous and valuable objects from the Metropolitan's antiquities collection is the sixth century B.C. Greek vase, exquisitely painted by Euphronios, celebrated Athenian master. Ever since it's acquisition by the Met thirty-three years ago, the Italians have been claiming it was looted, but didn't have irrefutable facts to prove it. Now their case has been strengthened by the deposition of Marion True, the Getty Museum curator who was recently forced to resign. She says that authorities at the Metropolitan have always known that the vase was removed from Italy illegally, and recollects her conversation with a colleague at the Met to that effect.
And here's the latest twist. Or thunderbolt. After months of stonewalling, the Getty Trust announced that "its board of trustees had formed a special committee to investigate its acquisitions of antiquities and its use of tax-exempt funds." The L.A. art community is holding its collective breath, waiting to see if this special committee will have the teeth, and more importantly, the balls, to go after the Getty's chief executive, Barry Munitz, who many consider to be the real culprit behind so many of the Getty's troubles.
Under the barrage of bad publicity, the trustees can no longer maintain the status quo, continuing their "no comment" policy. Even as recently as last June, they refused to comment when the Senate Finance Committee criticized Barry Munitz for extravagant spending and lavish perks inappropriate for the head of a nonprofit organization. Mr. Munitz is also under an investigation by the California Attorney General's office, for his alleged role in selling a Getty property to his best friend, billionaire Eli Broad, for $700,000 below market value.
According to the L.A. Times report, the Getty's special committee is composed of five board members, all with strong connections to Barry Munitz, which I don't find very encouraging. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully they will rise to the occasion and honestly assess the damage done to the institution entrusted to their care.
President Bush humiliated himself not long ago with the unfortunate statement: "You're doing a hell of a job, Brownie." Let's say our collective prayers that this committee will not embarrass themselves by saying, "you're doing a hell of a job, Barry."