Ex-director of Getty Museum reveals why he was ousted
Michael Brand takes pride in working with Italy and Greece to overcome impasse over controversial artefacts
By Elizabeth Fortescue. Web only
Published online: 19 July 2012
The former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Michael Brand, has revealed more about the reasons for his abrupt departure from the Los Angeles institution in January 2010, telling The Art Newspaper that his position there had become “untenable”.
Brand blames many of the Getty’s internal troubles on its management structure. The director of the Art Gallery NSW in Sydney since June, Brand recalls his role as the Getty Museum's director as a “lonely” one. “It became very clear that the museum director was in a position where he couldn’t actually make decisions or plan,” Brand says.
“It’s not like a normal museum where the director of the museum is the CEO and the museum has a board of trustees,” he says. “[At the Getty], instead of the museum director reporting to a board, the museum director reports to a paid president of the board who is also the CEO.”
Just after Brand started at the Getty, Barry Munitz, the president and chief executive of the J. Paul Getty Trust, resigned in the aftermath of a scandal over his lavish expenses. The Getty's chief executive during the rest of Brand’s stewardship of the museum was the late James Wood, whom Brand describes as uncommunicative and indecisive. “In three years, [Wood] never had one-on-one meetings with me,” Brand says.
Wood shifted control of the museum’s acquisitions budget from Brand’s office to his own, frustrating the museum’s ability to manage its collection, he says.
When the global financial crisis took its toll on the Getty in 2008, Brand was ordered to cut the museum’s budget by 25%. When he drew up a plan that preserved staff jobs Brand was told “the museum hadn’t spilt enough blood”.
“It’s a very strange thing to hear from someone who’s meant to be part of the team,” he says, declining to say who made the comment.
Notwithstanding the difficulties that forced his departure one year before his five-year contract expired, Brand praises the Getty's board for backing his decision, based on scholarship, to return artefacts to Italy and to Greece.
Brand says the repatriation of these objects fulfilled his goal of guiding the Getty through a crisis in which its head of antiquities, Marion True, faced criminal charges in Rome that she conspired with two dealers to receive illegally excavated antiquities. The charges expired in 2010 under the statute of limitations, leaving True in her own words "neither condemned nor vindicated".
Brand says he believes True was a “scapegoat” for a much broader problem that affects many institutions. She had resigned from the Getty around the time of Brand’s arrival, but he invited her back in about 2009 for a special lunch at the Getty Villa “to honour her contribution to this great, great museum site”.
True’s indictment was just one of the crises Brand walked into when he took up his role at the Getty in January 2006.
“I knew the depth of the problem and the breadth of the problem that went way beyond the Getty,” Brand says. “I felt it had to be solved, and the Getty in particular had to solve the situation because [of] the Getty Villa,", which is dedicated to the display of art of ancient Greece and Rome.
The Villa’s operation would require co-operative relations with Greece and Italy and Brand felt that he, as an “outsider”, had a good chance of helping resolve the situation for the Getty and the wider museum community.
Brand could not be at the opening weekend of the Getty Villa in early 2006 because he was in Rome for his first meeting with the Italian Ministry of Culture.
“What I tried to get across [at the meeting] was ‘we respect Italy’s concern about its cultural heritage… there shouldn’t be looting, we want to preserve [archaeological] sites,’” Brand says.
“We also recognised that where there was new evidence [that an item had been looted], we would deal with that evidence. I also think being a newcomer to the Getty Museum, and being an Australian, was not harmful because that got rid of any notion of the Getty being a rich American organisation.”
Just when negotiations with Italy were going well, the then Italian culture minister Francesco Rutelli told Brand that nothing else would be resolved if the Getty failed to return the so-called Getty Bronze, one of the key pieces in the museum’s collection.
“Things got very difficult and there were threats about a cultural embargo against the Getty, and it got very unpleasant,” Brand says.
The bronze, known as the “Victorious Youth” at the Getty and the “Athlete of Lisippo” in Italy, remains a contested item. The ancient Greek statue (300-100BC) was removed from the negotiating table in 2007 when a court case over its rightful ownership was launched.
Brand says he has already congratulated Timothy Potts, a fellow Australian, on becoming the director of the Getty Museum.
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