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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 () | Archives (14)

So let me get this straight. They lay off hundreds of workers but will employ two six figure ($700,000) museum directors to work in parralel for twelve months?

Read more on this story on my CultureGrrl blog: http://bit.ly/7VbFCg AND http://bit.ly/6U6ySp
Lee Rosenbaum, CultureGrrl

File under: "Things That Make You Go Hmmm..."

Did he jump or was he pushed?....

Why not the rich get richer, while the rest of us get taken advantage of!

Anon, that is correct.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the woman who has been picketing outside of the museum all week with a sign "No Civil Rights for Getty Employees" "Revoke Getty's Nonprofit Status"

Sadly, money allows the Getty to do things because it can and not because it should.

James N. Wood has given every evidence of being a cold, cold person whose cost efficiency staff-termination style bears more resemblance to that of a corporate shark than of a humane arts administrator. Brand's good work has been done in spite of, not because of, upper management whose decisions have been all too often, frankly, brutal and seemingly senselesss/nonsensical. Realigning the diverse parts of an overextended institution goes with the job but so does justifying the choices in terms of an overarching vision. Wood has not done so, nor has he even faced the assembled Getty staff since last spring's cutbacks, leaving those who remain demoralized and wondering why. Pursue this story, please.

I think we will find that Jim Wood felt threatened by Brand, and, as CEO was able to sack him. Wood, in every interview and appearance, seems an incurious, old-boy network power monger: it must have rankled him to have such an obviously brilliant director eclipsing his meager abilities.
The Getty has a problematic structure, with an almost built-in strife between the head of the trust and the head of the Museum. The Met solved the same problem a decade ago when they let Philippe de Montebello run the whole show. If the Getty Board of Trustees were not such a bunch of clueless dolts (which we see again and again), they would have unified the positions and given the reins to the obviously more capable leader, instead of allowing a way-past-his-prime windbag like Wood take down the best museum director in the country.
This is a big loss for Los Angeles.

Read more about the details of Brand's sweetened severance package on my CultureGrrl blog, here: http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2010/01/michael_brands_severance_agree.html
Lee Rosenbaum, CultureGrrl

I'm glad to see Michael Brand go. If only James Wood would follow him out the door. Perhaps then the Getty could at last begin ending the shameless intrusion (since 1997) of "contemporary [avant-garde] art" into the Getty Center's permanent collection and exhibition schedule---something J. Paul Getty himself would not have approved and could never have envisioned.

Consider, for example, Tim Hawkinson's "Octopus" -- http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/hawkinson --commissioned for display by the Getty in 2007. Brand is to blame for that abomination posing as art, but Wood (who had not yet assumed his role as president when the exhibition was planned) no doubt approved.

I document the despoilment of the Getty and other cultural institutions in "The Interminable Monopoly of the Avant-Garde," forthcoming in Aristos later this month.

Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts) --http://www.aristos.org

I'd like to read Lee's blog , but I make it a point not to follow blogs that don't allow comments.

Gaetano Porcasi is a Sicilian artist and school art teacher. His paintings are considered unique not only for their social and political commitment but also for the technique and choice of typical Mediterranean colours from which a strong and deep Sicilitudine (Sicilian mood) emerges. The 2003 itinerant exhibition Portella della Ginestra Massacre is a good example: in 1947 a group of Sicilian farmers was shot and killed in Portella by the outlaw Salvatore Giuliano and his men under orders from the local Mafia mobsters and big landowners in order to stop the farmers’ attempts to occupy and plant uncultivated local land. His historical paintings which denounce the violence and oppression of the Mafia find their counterpart in his paintings which depict sunny Sicilian landscapes rich in lemon, orange and olive trees, in prickly pear, agave and broom plants. They show the wealth of a land that has been kissed by God but downtrodden by man. In painting the sky of his native Sicily Gaetano uses several different hues of blue and it’s from this sky that his pictorial journey starts. In his paintings the history of Sicily, which has always been marked by its farmers’ sweat and blood and by their struggles for freedom and democracy, finds its pictorial expression in the fusion of the red flags of the workers with the Italian flag in a sort of Italian and Mediterranean epopea. The red flags and the Italian flag stand out against the blue sky that changes its hues according to the events, the seasons, the deeds and the moods that are painted on the canvas. The luxuriant nature of Sicily with its beautiful, sunny, Mediterranean landscapes seems to remain the silent, unchangeable and unchanged witness to events and the passing of time. Here people are only accidenti, they aren’t makers of their own life. Thus Gaetano makes a clear-cut metaphysical distinction between a benign, merciful nature and Man who breaks the natural harmony to satisfy his wild, unbridled ambition and selfishness and who becomes the perpetrator of violence and crime. Gaetano is also an active environmentalist and his fight against all forms of pollution has already cost him a lot of aggravation.


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