When a museum's name appears on the front page of the major newspapers, it usually signals that a famous painting has been stolen or that an insanely expensive artwork has been acquired. None of this explains the frequency and intensity of the press coverage that the Getty has been receiving in recent months, thanks to the controversies surrounding Getty Trust President, Barry Munitz.
First, it was the unexpected resignation of Deborah Gribbon, a well-respected museum director who had been working at the museum for 20 years, but found herself in a losing battle with her boss, Barry Munitz. Then, the Los Angeles Times fired out a series of in-depth articles, criticizing Mr. Munitz's management style and the lavish perks that he enjoys on top of his million dollar plus annual salary. One day the Getty's employees were told that they would no longer enjoy such free perks as coffee. The next thing they learned was that Getty Trustees bought a $72 thousand-dollar Porsche for Mr. Munitz. While traveling with his wife in Italy, ostensibly on business, Mr. Munitz billed the Getty $35,000 for his expenses, including $15,000 for the rental of a villa in Tuscany. Later, he was reimbursed for a trip to London on the Concorde. After traveling by yacht as a guest of his best friend, billionaire collector and philanthropist Eli Broad, Mr. Munitz submitted to the Trust a list of expenses, including a few thousand dollars in telephone bills, and thousands more for his portion of the yacht's mooring charges, while stopping in various ports. One could say that courting the famous philanthropist is good politics for the Trust, but so far it's Mr. Broad who has clearly gained from this relationship. In 2002, Mr. Broad was able to buy from the Getty Trust a piece of land which happened to be adjacent to his house in Brentwood, and for which he paid, according to the L.A. Times, $700,000 less than its appraised market value.
When Barry Munitz was hired as President of the Trust, it was not for his limited knowledge or passion for art, but for his presumed political and business acumen. Thus, selling Getty Trust property under the market value, and on top of that to a friend, represents, in my opinion, not only a serious breach of his fiduciary responsibilities but a severe lack of judgement, as well. One might also question whether the board of trustees has been sleeping at the wheel rather than effectively monitoring Getty activities. As it now stands, the Senate Finance Committee alongside the California Attorney General's office are investigating these and other perceived improprieties at the Getty. In June, when the Getty Trustees were asked to respond to the Senate Finance Committee's criticisms, they refused to comment. Meanwhile, the morale among Getty employees is at an all-time low, and the recent appointment of the new museum director, an expert in Asian and Indian art---an area which has never been a subject of the museum's interest---has raised more than a few eyebrows.
Echoing President Bush's refusal to acknowledge bad news coming from Iraq, Barry Munitz claims that everything and everyone at the Getty is quite all right, thank-you-very-much.
I believe it's time that we demand from the leaders of non-profit organizations more transparency and accountability for their actions. Even President Bush, in spite of his obvious dislike for press conferences, is required from time to time, to hold them. I strongly believe that the leaders of non-profit organizations must also be required to be questioned by journalists in regularly held, open press conferences. Mr. Munitz and his brethren should not be allowed to run their organizations as their own personal fiefdoms.