Troubles Remain at Getty Despite Chief’s Departure
The top man may be gone from his hilltop office, but the Getty Trust remains under a microscope, from a state probe of its finances to probation among its peers to the wary scrutiny of community leaders as the institution struggles to remake itself.
When the internal e-mail announcing President Barry Munitz’s resignation went out just after 5 p.m. Thursday, one employee said, “shrieks and shouts” of surprise and pleasure echoed across the Brentwood campus. But given the list of troubles he leaves behind, the Getty’s remaining leaders may have their hardest work ahead of them.
The California attorney general’s investigation of the trust’s finances, which could threaten the Getty’s nonprofit status, will go forward, a spokeswoman said Friday. Regulators and Getty officials are scheduled to meet next week, a source with the state added.
Although Italian cultural officials met in late January with Getty Museum Director Michael Brand, that government is pressing forward in its trial of former Getty antiquities curator Marion True, accusing her of trafficking in looted art.
Munitz’s departure doesn’t change the trust’s tenuous status with the Washington-based Council on Foundations either. In December, the 2,000-member organization, the nation’s largest trade group for nonprofits, put the trust on 60 days’ probation after the Getty failed to turn over material requested as part of an inquiry into its practices.
Council President Steve Gunderson said the trust has until Feb. 19 to answer questions on spending, governance and acquisitions practices. Depending on those answers, the council’s actions could range from reinstating the Getty to revoking its membership, another potential blow to the trust’s reputation.
In the arts community, leaders marveled at the revelation that Munitz had agreed to quit his million-dollar-a-year job, pay $250,000 to the institution and leave uncollected a severance package whose worth has been estimated at $2 million or more. Many called the move a vital step for the embattled trust.
Getty Trust Chairman John Biggs said Friday that the $250,000 isn’t a reimbursement for specific expenditures but a negotiated amount that the former chief is paying in exchange for the trust’s guarantee that it “will not make any further claims on any matter on Barry Munitz.”
In leaving, many agreed, the 64-year-old administrator took some pressure off an organization that has been buffeted by controversy for close to a year over revelations of his free-spending habits and True’s dealings with antiquities merchants and donors. Munitz had led the Getty since December 1997.
“This is a very good solution to the problem,” said Richard Koshalek, president of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. After the “extraordinary damage” done by the scandals, he said, “the Getty now has a promising future.”
“This reminds us,” said James Cuno, president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago and a frequent collaborator with Munitz in Cuno’s previous job at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, “we have to be very, very careful with public trust.”
With Munitz’s resignation effective immediately, the trust has given interim control to longtime Getty administrator Deborah Marrow. But the trustees face the dual task of reviewing their own role in the institution’s fall in esteem and recruiting a new president.
The leader of the Getty’s self-examination, attorney Ronald L. Olson, has said that he expects to complete his report on the trust’s financial practices soon and that another investigation of its collection practices will probably take many months more. Neither Getty trustees nor Olson has committed to making the reports public. The lawyer has declined to comment on Munitz’s departure.
On Friday at the Getty Center, the post-Munitz era dawned quietly -- in large part because it was a scheduled day off for most employees. When one visitor to the gift shop told the clerk that he didn’t need a bag, the clerk replied:
“Oh, take one anyway. I think we can afford it now.”