The most important arts institution in Los Angeles—and most deep-pocketed in the world—will soon have a woman at its helm, and a New York transplant at that. Katherine E. Fleming, currently the provost of New York University (NYU), has been selected as the next president and chief executive of the Getty Trust, the organisation that oversees the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Research Institute, Getty Conservation Institute and Getty Foundation, and has an endowment of $9.2bn. (For comparison, as of last summer NYU’s endowment was $5.8bn.)
Fleming will replace James Cuno, who has been the Getty’s leader since 2011 and is retiring this summer; she starts in the role on 1 August. “The mission of the Getty is more vitally important than ever, as environmental degradation and global upheaval threaten the world’s artistic and cultural heritage in unprecedented ways,” she said in a statement.
Fleming, who was born in Princeton, New Jersey, has taught at NYU since 1998 and has served as the highest-ranking academic officer there since 2016. Her career in academia actually began in Southern California in the 1990s, including stints teaching at the University of California, Riverside and the University of California, Los Angeles. Her scholarship has focused on history and religion in the Mediterranean with a focus on Jewish and Greek communities, the formation of the modern Greek state and shifting perceptions of classical antiquity.
Her 2008 book Greece: A Jewish History (Princeton University Press) won several prizes including a National Jewish Book Award. She is also the co-founder of Istorima, a Greek oral history project supported by the foundation of late Greek shipping magnate and collector Stavros Niarchos.
At the Getty—whose holdings include a world-class collection of Greek antiquities—Fleming anticipates one of her major preoccupations being climate change’s impact on cultural heritage and artefacts. “Climate change is going to be one of the major, if not the major, defining features of human existence over the coming century or so,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I wouldn’t call it a vision, but awareness of that fact is something that informs my thinking in my current job and will certainly inform my thinking as I take the helm at the trust.”
Fleming will effectively become the most powerful woman in the US museum field when she takes over at the Getty, but joins a number of women recently appointed to lead major Los Angeles institutions. Johanna Burton recently became the first female director of the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and in 2020 former Metropolitan Museum chairman of education Sandra Jackson-Dumont was picked to lead the under-construction Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
“She is a visionary, experienced leader, with an extensive understanding of global cultures and their importance in uniting all of us,” David Lee, chair of the Getty’s board, said of Fleming in a statement. “At this critical moment in our world, she is the ideal leader to guide one of the world’s largest, most complex cultural organisations and to continue Getty’s trajectory of supporting and sharing visual arts and culture for the greater public good.”