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Is the Getty Museum directorship becoming a revolving door?

January 8, 2010 | 10:34 am

Brand 2 Thursday's startling announcement from the Getty Trust that museum director Michael Brand had resigned, effective at the end of the month, remains a puzzlement. With no easy explanation for the surprise move offered by either Brand or the Trust – a new job offer elsewhere, for example -- speculation is rife. Naturally it focuses on possible leadership tensions. Brand is director of the museum, which is the Getty's public face, but James N. Wood,  himself a former museum director (the Art Institute of Chicago), is Trust president. Brand reports to Wood.

Whatever emerges in coming days about the shift, this much is clear: A revolving door in the director's office is unhealthy for any art museum -- especially a major institution. Brand leaves the Getty post after just four years. So did his predecessor, Deborah Gribbon. Prior to their brief tenure, by sharp contrast, John Walsh was director of the Getty Museum for 17 years.

In the museum world, it takes at least two or three years just to begin to see a glimmer of the fruits of one's labors. Brand arrived in Los Angeles under difficult circumstances, during the upheavals of the final months in office of former Getty Trust President Barry Munitz; Thursday's announcement of his resignation focused first on his successful efforts at calming the waters, starting with the resolution of messy conflicts over antiquities. Those and other achievements should not be minimized.

But it is also true that Brand has not been in place long enough to leave a major stamp on the Getty Museum in terms of collection, exhibition history or staff. That's a shame. His successor's job thus becomes even more important.

At an art museum with the power to shape cultural perceptions on the international stage, continuity matters. Getty President James Wood knows that. He was director of the Art Institute of Chicago for 24 years.

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Michael Brand. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times