The art world voices assent for interim chief

Times Staff Writer

Deborah Marrow is an arts administrator who knows how to keep her balance and sense of clarity, people who know her say, and that makes her a good choice as interim president of the troubled J. Paul Getty Trust.

Marrow, 57, was chosen to step in as Barry Munitz resigned this week after more than a year of turmoil, including allegations that the Getty acquired looted antiquities and an inquiry by the California attorney general’s office into its financial practices.

“We’ve had a year of difficulty, but we’re going forward, we’re going back to center,” Marrow said in a phone interview Friday.

She said it is “way too premature” to say whether she wants to be considered by the Getty Trust board as a permanent successor to Munitz. “The trustees need to take time to consider options. We want to do this right. I want to just do a good job for the Getty in this interim period, and that’s all I’m thinking about now.”


In her 23 years at the Getty, Marrow has emerged as its longest-tenured department head and the administrator with perhaps the broadest hands-on experience of its multifaceted operations. Her primary job -- for which her 2004 salary was $210,000 plus $44,000 in expenses and other allowances, according to the Getty’s most recent available tax return -- has been directing the grant-making program since 1989. But she has taken other roles, including stepping in for more than a year in 1999 as interim director of the Getty Research Institute, home to the trust’s scholarly endeavors in art history.

As director of the Getty Foundation, the trust’s grant-making wing, Marrow has routinely been part of the debate about which projects in scholarship, art conservation and museum work to support. She has developed widespread connections while dealing with other arts institutions in Southern California and around the world that seek some of the $20 million or so that the Getty awards annually.

Marrow earned a doctorate in art history from the University of Pennsylvania, where her work in 17th century French and Italian art led to her 1982 publication of a book on the arts patronage of Maria de Medici, a Florentine princess who married the king of France and fostered the work of Peter Paul Rubens.

“She has a very broad grasp of all the fields that the Getty’s involved with and is a great choice to help heal some of what’s been going on,” said Stephen D. Rountree, a Getty executive for more than 20 years before becoming president and chief executive of the Music Center of Los Angeles County in 2003.

John Walsh, director of the Getty Museum from 1983 to 2000, said Marrow’s stewardship of grant programs “was a model for doing things in a scrupulous way” and that her arts background gives her a deep understanding of museum operations.

Marrow “has never lost her awareness of museums and their work,” Walsh said. “She’ll take a prudent line.”

Deborah Gribbon, the museum director whose 2004 resignation over conflicts with Munitz was the tipping point for subsequent revelations of the Getty’s woes, said, “I think she will do a good job in making sure that the interim is a productive period and provide fair and reasonable leadership.”

Michael Roth, a Getty Research Institute administrator until 2000, when he became president of California College of the Arts in Oakland, worked under Marrow the last time she was thrust into a new interim role. Roth credits her with impressing on him the importance of reaching out to colleagues in other parts of the Getty, rather than spending most of his free time hunkered down in his own research.


“She showed me how to be the leader of an institution and what it takes to help others do their best.”

A key move Marrow made, Roth recalled, was to end the practice of handpicking scholars from around the globe for plum fellowships at the Getty. Instead she has made it the kind of competitive program, overseen by an expert panel, that is common in the grant-making world.

Kirsten Grimstad, a professor at Antioch University Los Angeles, has been Marrow’s friend since the late 1970s, when they worked together putting out a feminist arts journal, Chrysalis. Grimstad said Marrow’s style of networking isn’t just glad-handing but a sincere way of interacting with others.

“It’s not a skill she learned; it’s who she is.”


Grimstad also counts among Marrow’s accomplishments her 34-year marriage to Michael J. McGuire, an environmental engineer and water quality expert, and helping to raise their children, David, 25, and Anna, 20. “She’s done a fine job of succeeding in that [professional] world and harmonizing that with her [family] commitments.”