To Be Getty President...

Hosted by

When a couple of months ago Los Angeles Times presented its redesigned format, I dismissed it as 'much ado about nothing'. More difficult to dismiss was the paucity of art coverage in the first few issues of the redesigned newspaper. But now, two months later, I'm happy to acknowledge that its layout and attention to art has significantly improved. Last Sunday's calendar section was probably its best in a long, long while.

The fifth anniversary of the Getty Center opening in Brentwood inspired LA Times to devote four large articles; on the Getty's influence on Los Angeles and beyond; on its shrinking multi-billion dollar endowment; on its costly maintenance, and on the heart of the matter - the museum's collection. The collection continues to improve, though a few world-class masterpieces slipped between the fingers of the Getty, unwilling to pay top dollar for top quality. The museum was recently outbid by a private collector who paid close to $80 million dollars for a stunning painting by Rubens.

The most anticipated of the four articles in the LA Times was a profile on Barry Munitz, the Getty Trust President. Coming from a humble background, he became an independently wealthy and successful businessman and, in 1991, was appointed Chancellor of Cal State. Five years ago, he assumed leadership of the Getty and since then has had a considerable impact on its structure and programs. For all intents and purposes, the man is on top of his game. As such, he travels and vacations in the company of Eli Broad and Richard Riordan, movie studio heads and university presidents. It surprises me that his friends see him as a possible candidate for the soon-to-be vacant position of President of the University of California - a job he says "would be a dream come true". It strikes me as the ultimate irony that a man in charge of one of the wealthiest and most ambitious art institutions in the world doesn't see his current job as the ultimate prize. But should we blame a man who is, first and foremost, a brilliant businessman and public administrator for not being head over heels in love with his current job?

The tendency in recent years is for the directors and administrators of major American museums and cultural organizations to be chosen from the ranks of business people with little or no art background. With all their accomplishments, such people can bring corporate know-how to their new jobs, but are less successful at providing artistic and creative inspiration for their institutions and communities. The undisputed excellence of the Metropolitan Museum of Art obviously has a lot to do with the complete devotion of its director, Philippe de Montebello, who is celebrating his 25th year as head of the Met. Let's hope Mr. Munitz will find in his heart the same dedication to the Getty.