Getty is losing chief curator

Times Staff Writer

William GRISWOLD, acting director and chief curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum, has been appointed director and president of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. He will assume his new position Oct. 1, succeeding Evan Maurer, who retired in February.

Griswold, 45, came to the Getty Museum in 2001 as associate director, a relatively low-profile position, but shot into the limelight three years later when Director Deborah Gribbon resigned abruptly, citing differences on “critical issues” with Barry Munitz, president and chief executive of the Getty Trust. Munitz immediately appointed Griswold acting director and said that he would be among candidates under consideration for the director’s job. As the Getty prepared to launch a search for Gribbon’s replacement, Griswold said that he would consider throwing his hat into the ring, but he formally withdrew from the competition in April.

Declining to comment on the progress of the search, Munitz issued a statement praising Griswold.


“Bill has enriched our museum with his expertise and has provided enthusiasm and support for our programs adding particular value as the interim director,” the statement said. “It is a great compliment when one of our staff is recognized for his or her excellence and chosen to assume greater responsibility and a complex challenge.”

Barbara Fleischman, a Getty trustee and search committee member, said that Griswold’s departure was expected and would neither hamper the search for a permanent museum head nor force the search team to speed up its work.

“The process is going full force, the process is going very well,” she said in a phone interview from New York City. “There are good candidates.”

At the Getty, Griswold has overseen the curatorial, conservation, exhibition and education departments of a museum that is part of a wealthy, multifaceted arts organization, with branches for philanthropy and conservation. In Minneapolis, he will take charge of a traditional, stand-alone museum that was founded in 1883 and opened in 1915. With a collection of about 100,000 objects spanning 5,000 years of world history, it occupies a historic building designed by the firm of McKim, Mead and White and expanded in 1974 by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. Plans are now underway for a new wing designed by New York architect Michael Graves.

Reached by telephone in Minneapolis, Griswold said that it is “heart-wrenching” to leave the Getty, “but this opportunity seems so terrific, I am confident I have made the right decision. The MIA is a wonderful institution with a remarkable collection that has great strength in many areas, including Chinese art and Old Master paintings. That, combined with the talented staff and extremely dedicated board and vibrant community, were extraordinarily attractive to me.

“With the excellent schedule of upcoming exhibitions, our increasing focus on new acquisitions, and our developing plans for the exciting new addition by Michael Graves, we are poised to strengthen our position as one of the finest encyclopedic museums in the nation,” he said. “The museum plays a strong role in the community, and it’s one of a few in the nation that have a free general admission policy, which I will maintain.”

Trustees of the Minneapolis museum said that Griswold emerged as the strongest among exceptional candidates in a rigorous national search.

Born and raised in central Pennsylvania, Griswold was educated at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. A specialist in Florentine drawings of the early Renaissance whose interests reach across many periods and disciplines, he began his career as a curator of drawings and prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, from 1988 to 1995. His next position was at the Pierpont Morgan Library, where he was Charles W. Engelhard curator and head of the drawings and prints department from 1995 to 2001. While there, he oversaw the design and creation of the Morgan’s Drawing Study Center and helped organize “New York Collects,” its first major exhibition of 20th century art.

His appointment comes at a moment when many art museums, in addition to the Getty, are looking for leaders. The Assn. of Art Museum Directors currently lists 18 openings for directors of art museums in the United States and Canada, including such large institutions as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Fleischman said the Getty search has been worldwide, and that a new museum director could be in place on the Brentwood hilltop by October, when Griswold begins his new job in Minneapolis. “It’s our hope; there is a very good chance,” she said.

Fleischman said she could not divulge how many candidates are on the Getty’s list, whether finalists have been identified or whether it already has offered the job to any of them.

The fact that a number of other museums are presumably competing for the top talent in the field hasn’t made the Getty’s task more difficult, she said. “We’re very fortunate that has not been the case. We’re very optimistic, and very excited.”

Fleischman praised Griswold’s work at the Getty. “He’s a wonderful guy, an excellent scholar, a very good people person, and I think he’ll do a great job” for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. She said she was disappointed when Griswold took himself out of the running for the Getty vacancy, but that his decision to run the Midwestern museum makes sense at this point in his career.

“I think he felt a different kind of experience would be very valuable to him. He’s still very young, and there will be another step for him beyond Minneapolis.”

Times staff writer Mike Boehm contributed to this report.