The Los Angeles Times answers some of the obvious questions about Michael Brand’s announced departure from the Getty Museum after tension with Getty Trust President James Wood burst into conflict:
“If we knew what Jim’s vision was, life would be easier,” said one senior Getty official. “He keeps his cards very close to his chest.”
One contentious change to emerge was Wood’s decision to take increased control over major art acquisitions. The Getty museum director controls a sizable acquisition budget funded largely by bond sales. But that pool has shrunk in recent years, and Wood proposed supplementing it with a new fund for major art acquisitions and “strategic initiatives.”
The money was culled largely from cuts in the trust’s administration and operations, supplemented by reductions in the Getty’s grantmaking and conservation work. In 2008, it contained between $30 million and $40 million — nearly four times larger than the museum’s acquisition budget of roughly $11 million, according to two sources with access to budget information.
Brand and the three other program directors can propose uses for the money, but ultimately it is controlled by Wood.
Sources close to Brand suggest he perceived the move as stripping away a key source of his authority. Wood is said to believe the move brought “rationality” to how the Getty paid for major acquisitions.
Then last year all Getty programs were asked to cut about 25% from their budgets amid a 25% decline in the Getty endowment. Brand’s vigorous efforts to shield the museum’s staff from cuts while meeting the budget target became a source of recurring friction with Wood, sources said.
The museum lost some 60 positions, more than any other program, but some felt the museum hadn’t taken its share of the hit. Some observers point to Wood’s background as another source of tension.
Both his predecessors were chosen because they were outsiders to the art world, a strategy intended to shield the museum director from meddling by the Trust president. But their lack of art expertise drew criticism over the years, and when Munitz was pushed out in 2006 amid a spending scandal, the board replaced him with Wood, a longtime museum director.
Wood has been careful not to micromanage the museum, sources say, but his move to take greater authority over acquisitions was likely perceived as a power grab.
The Getty Has Trust Issues (Los Angeles Times)