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What’s the Getty up to?

Times Staff Writers

BARRY MUNITZ, president and chief executive of the J. Paul Getty Trust, raised hackles in the art world with his 1998 revelation that the trust would seek corporate sponsorship for its programs and private gifts of money and artworks. The specter of the extraordinarily rich patriarch wooing away potential donors from its poor cousins caused some observers to cry foul.

But this week’s news that Michael Brand, the newly appointed Getty Museum director, will ratchet up the trust’s development efforts has brought a relatively subdued response -- despite the trust’s mounting woes.

Brand, who has led the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond for the last five years, will take charge of a museum whose former director, Deborah Gribbon, abruptly resigned last October, citing “critical differences” with Munitz, and whose antiquities curator, Marion True, faces trial in Rome on charges of conspiring to receive stolen property.

The trust -- which oversees the museum and branches for art conservation, research and philanthropy -- is the subject of an inquiry into its financial practices, launched by the state attorney general’s office in response to a Times story detailing Munitz’s lavish spending.

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“This is a difficult time at the Getty,” said Selma Holo, who directs the USC Fisher Gallery and heads the university’s museum studies program. “The museum is troubled and public perception is terribly important. I think that fundraising doesn’t need to be in the forefront of what the Getty and its new leadership hope to accomplish in the future. It shouldn’t be their first priority.”

“But when they are talking about working with collectors to give fabulous collections a public home,” she added, “how could one argue with that? That’s a worthy thing. Having collections of art in the public domain is something that every museum should be doing. The fact that these objects would be preserved and exhibited and interpreted would be a net gain.”

Brand, who has led a successful capital campaign in Richmond, has won strong endorsements from his peers. Many of them say that he will be an effective fundraiser at the Getty, although some express concern about the possible effect on other institutions and question the supply of likely donors.

“Brand has the experience, and he certainly has a shot at getting corporate support,” said John Walsh, Getty Museum director from 1983 to 2000. “He’s done this in Virginia, and, with some hard work, he will be able to do it at the Getty. But it’s a very small number of corporations who are interested in the kinds of original and often exploratory shows that the Getty has done, not big names but artists and movements that are less familiar. Corporations are not donors but investors in public relations.”

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As for donations of artworks, Walsh said: “Since there is not a very large group of collectors of art in the Getty’s field, the Getty will have to compete with other institutions for the affections of the few collectors.”

Getty solicitors of money and art will have “a huge advantage,” said Richard Koshalek, president of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, referring to the trust’s art collections, facilities, conservation services and research capabilities. “They’ll be a strong, competitive fundraising force. The question is, what will be the magnitude of the impact on all nonprofit cultural institutions in Los Angeles? It’s a serious question, since the Getty has enormous resources and other institutions are having difficulty.”

Munitz has said that philanthropy is not a zero-sum game, and many cultural leaders seem to agree.

“I don’t think the resources are finite,” said Hugh Davies, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. “I think the pie can be grown. That’s healthy.”

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All museums raise funds, he said, so the Getty’s activity shouldn’t be viewed as surprising. As for corporate partnerships, he added, “it depends how they are structured. Some corporations are happy to make a contribution and have their name in a credit line, and some are very precise about how large the type should be on their logo at the entrance.”

JEFFREY RUDOLPH, president and chief executive of the California Science Center and chairman of the American Assn. of Museums, a 15,800-member organization that represents nearly 3,000 institutions, also said that he didn’t see the Getty’s fundraising as a negative force. The Getty might even attract new donors that would support other museums, he said.

“Assuming that any donor of art or funds or any corporate sponsor is sophisticated enough to understand the resources and programs the Getty already has and make its own judgment, I don’t see a big problem,” he said. “If they think that the Getty is the best place for them to donate their artwork or sponsor a program, they are probably looking at the mutual benefits of something, and I think that’s OK. The Getty is not secretive and pretending it doesn’t have any resources. They are saying, here’s an opportunity to leverage resources and do more. How successful they are will depend on how well they present their case to donors and how compelling it is.”

Donors of artworks must choose among museums, Rudolph said, “but if that artwork gets shown at the Getty as opposed to another museum, it’s still available to the public. And who’s to say it’s better at one museum than another as long as it’s accessible to the public and well exhibited?”

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“I think the competition is not so much among museums,” he said. “It’s among tens of thousands of nonprofits seeking contributions. And almost all are very good causes or they wouldn’t be nonprofits. It’s a matter of priorities and establishing where people think their funds are most effectively used.”


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