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Spier & Gasparatto: The Getty Museum’s Dark-Horse Curatorial Appointments UPDATED

Here’s my main question: If Jeffrey Spier, just named to the Getty Museum’s long-vacant position of senior curator of antiquities, is a “member of the Department of Classics at the University of Arizona” (as the museum’s press release states), why isn’t he listed on the faculty website for the University of Arizona’s Department of Classics?

Jeffrey Spier, Getty Museum's new senior curator of antiquities

Jeffrey Spier, the Getty Museum’s new senior curator of antiquities

I called the department, whose secretary told me it was her understanding that he was “a University Associate” but wasn’t an employee. She also said she would get me further clarification from a professor in the department, who was in a meeting. When I asked the Getty for clarification, its spokesperson gave Spier’s title as: “University Associate, Department of Classics.”

UPDATE: Cynthia White, a professor in the department (who was unaware of Spier’s Getty appointment), confirmed he was a “University Associate” and told me that he has taught there “on an ad hoc basis…when he was available and we needed somebody.”

In any event, as reported by Mike Boehm in the LA Times, Spier has had a “long professional connection” with the Getty’s director, Timothy Potts, for whom he curated an exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and another at the Kimbell Museum, when Potts directed those institutions.

Bespeaking a possibly difficult candidates search, Spier’s new post has been empty since 2011, when Karol Wight left to become executive director of the Corning Museum of Glass.

The press release indicates that Spier is expected to implement Potts’ plan for “the reinstallation of the collection of Greek and Roman art along historical lines,” replacing the current thematic approach. (Potts had previously discussed that plan with me.) I suspect that Potts will be a very hands-on director for this crucial, much needed revamp.

Spier is also charged with “incorporat[ing] the classical world’s interaction with other ancient cultures.” When I interviewed Potts at the time of his appointment to the Getty’s directorship, he had discussed his desire to expand the Getty’s antiquities purview beyond Greek and Roman art. (He is a specialist in the Ancient Near East.)

The Getty’s other major appointment, also announced in the above-linked press release, is Davide Gasparotto, director of the Galleria Estense, Modena, Italy. He will become senior curator of paintings, succeeding Scott Schaefer, who retired in January.

Davide Gasparotto, the Getty Museum's new senior curator of paintings

Davide Gasparotto, the Getty Museum’s new senior curator of paintings

CultureGrrl readers may remember Gasparatto from this post (with companion video) about his museum’s loan of a Velázquez to the Metropolitan Museum last year:

Velázquez, “Duke Francesco I d’Este,” 1638 Galleria Estense, Modena © su concessione del Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

As installed at the Met: Velázquez, “Duke Francesco I d’Este,” 1638
Galleria Estense, Modena
© su concessione del Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

You can glimpse the Getty’s curator designate at 1:11 and 3:17 in my CultureGrrl Video, taken at the Met’s press preview. Potts calls him “a leading figure in the field of Renaissance through 18th-century Italian painting and sculpture, while also having an exceptionally broad knowledge of European art in other periods and media.”

As if to assuage possible doubts about these relatively dark-horse candidates, the Getty elicited quotes from renowned experts for publication in the press release, vouching for the designees’ accomplishments. In extolling Gasparatto, Keith Christiansen, chairman of the Met’s department of European paintings, mentions that he “is well known to his museum colleagues in the United States, where he spent a year as a fellow at the Metropolitan Museum.” (But he doesn’t mention the Met’s Velázquez focus exhibition.)

John Boardman, a distinguished expert in classical archaeology and professor emeritus at Oxford (where Spier received his D.Phil in classical archaeology), calls Spier “a notable scholar with expertise ranging over all antiquity, and especially in the more abstruse but important area of the study of ancient engraved gems.”

We’ll soon see how well they rise to the challenge: Spier assumes his new post in September; Gasparotto in late 2014.

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