Culture Monster

All the Arts, All the Time

« Previous Post | Culture Monster Home | Next Post »

Michael Brand, director of J. Paul Getty Museum, is stepping down [updated]

January 7, 2010 |  1:10 pm

BrandMichael Brand, who has served four years as the director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, will step down from his role at the end of the month. The news was announced today by James N. Wood, president and chief executive of the J. Paul Getty Trust.

Brand began his tenure in December 2005 with a five-year contract. He will be available to serve as a consultant through the end of the summer, according to the Getty.

The Getty said David Bomford, associate director for collections at the museum, would serve as interim director of the museum until Brand’s successor is named.

Brand is leaving the museum about one year before his contract is up. In an interview, he said the choice to resign was "my decision," but declined to be more specific.

"I really don't want to get behind the reasons of my resignation," he said.

Brand, who turns 52 on Saturday, said he would continue to receive his salary until December, when his contract expires. 

He said he would also have access to the Getty-owned museum director's residence, where he lives rent-free.

Brand is the third person to hold the director post since the museum opened to the public 12 years ago. He succeeded Deborah Gribbon, who resigned in October 2004 over differences with then-President Barry Munitz.

[Updated 4:17 p.m.: Current and former Getty officials pointed to a “personality clash” between Wood and Brand, as well as differences of opinion over the Getty’s strategic vision that was articulated in 2008 after a lengthy process.

The plan, which embodies Wood's goals, seeks to have the Getty focus more narrowly on those areas where it can do the best. Combined with recent budget cuts, it has led to significant changes at the Getty’s four programs, some of which have abandoned lines of work that were once viewed as central to the institution, former staff say.

The plan remains largely a vision on paper, current and former staff say -- getting the Getty’s programs to work cooperatively remains an elusive goal. 
   
Others say Brand's departure is the latest manifestation of historical tensions that have been present since the Trust’s foundation. Three generations of Getty leadership have proven unable to overcome the complexities of an organization that has both a museum director and a CEO, a set-up that makes the Getty unusual in the art world.

These same issues led to clashes between the Getty’s founding CEO, Harold Williams, and John Walsh, the first museum director to wield the Getty’s full economic might. More recently, CEO Barry Munitz clashed bitterly with Gribbon, who left suddenly in 2004 amid a similar strategic planning process.

Ironically, both Williams and Munitz were criticized as chief executives who had little experience in the arts. Today some point to Wood's role as a former museum director as a source of some of the tension between  Brand and him.

Wood said he was well aware of these historic tensions when he arrived at the Getty, and made it a priority to resolve them. For some current and former staff, Brand’s sudden departure has raised questions about Wood's ability to succeed where his predecessors have failed.]

Brand joined the museum when the Getty was embroiled in a scandal over allegedly looted artifacts from Italy and Greece. The legal wrangling spanned years and saw the resignation of several top Getty leaders. 

The museum agreed to return 40 disputed artifacts to Italy in 2007. The resolution was seen by many as a great loss to the museum's collection of antiquities.

In a statement today, Brand said, “I am very proud of what I have been able to achieve in my four years as director of the Getty Museum, especially the successful conclusion of negotiations with Italy and Greece."

He also cited new relationships with sister institutions in Mexico and opening up the museum’s exhibition program to non-Western art and contemporary art.

In May 2009, the Getty Trust announced pay cuts and layoffs, with each of the Getty's top three earners -- including Brand -- taking a 6% salary hit in the coming fiscal year.

A Harvard-educated Australian, Brand was the Getty's first museum director to oversee the public operation of two sites, the Getty Museum in Brentwood and the Getty Villa in Malibu. Before coming to the Getty, he headed the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond for five years.

Brand said he has two children attending school in L.A. and will be staying in the area with his family for at least the next year. He declined to elaborate on any future plans.

-- David Ng and Jason Felch

{Updated: A previous version of this post said Deborah Gribbon resigned from the Getty in 2005. She resigned in 2004.]

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

Comments 

Advertisement










Video