James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, is scheduled to meet with the Getty Museum’s staff this morning to discuss “the transition and moving forward,” as Getty spokesperson Julie Jaskol confirmed this morning, responding to my query (which was prompted by this Chasing Aphrodite tweet).
Yesterday, the Getty’s press office stonewalled my efforts to get more information regarding the circumstances leading to Tuesday’s bombshell—the cryptic announcement that the museum’s acting director, David Bomford, would leave his post in February, returning to London, with unspecified “plans to pursue research, scholarship and writing.”
Jori Finkel of the LA Times did get James Cuno to comment briefly about the ongoing director’s search, but not on the undisclosed circumstances behind Bomford’s departure. Finkel also reported that “Bomford was not available to speak today, according to a Getty spokesperson.”
I contacted Bomford, who did e-mail me this:
Thank you for your message and your kind wishes for the future. I would have thought everything was covered in the release [my link, not his] issued yesterday. [This was the party line from the press office, as well.]
But am very happy to add that I have had a wonderful nearly five years at the Getty and am proud to have led and worked alongside some of the best museum professionals in the world. I will miss them.
I suspect they will miss him, as well.
One of the many questions to which I could not get an answer from the
Getty is whether this career transition was a resignation, a forced
resignation or a firing.
This situation has undoubtedly given everyone at the Getty traumatic flashbacks to the icy parting of the ways between former Getty Museum director Michael Brand (under whom Bomford served) and late Getty president James Wood. Who, then, could be better than Brand to provide some informed perspective on this latest Getty upheaval?
Brand himself has productively moved on: He is now consulting director for the new Fumihiko Maki-designed Aga Khan Museum, scheduled to open in Toronto in late 2013. I reached Brand in Paris by e-mail yesterday.
Here are Michael Brand’s candid answers to my questions:
Rosenbaum: What do you make of this development and why do you find it, as you said [in his initial e-mail to me], “very disturbing”?
Brand: I find it disturbing because it seems out of character for David Bomford to leave the Getty Museum right now in this manner. If he did not leave voluntarily, then you really have to wonder what on earth is happening there, for David is one of the most principled and highly respected colleagues in our field.
Rosenbaum: Do you think Bomford would have made a good director?
Brand: David was an extraordinary colleague to all of us at the Getty Museum, a true gentleman with an impeccable understanding of European art based on both a deep knowledge of art history and his own extensive experience as a paintings conservator. He was also greatly admired by colleagues in other Getty programs such as the Getty Research Institute, where he helped break down barriers between the two sister institutions. But it would not be good form for me to speculate on who should be the next director of the Getty Museum.
Rosenbaum: Why do you think he is leaving?
Brand: If David is not speaking to the media, then you would need to ask Jim Cuno that question directly. [I did, to no avail, put that question to the Getty’s press office.]
Rosenbaum: What does this development say about the administrative and structural problems at the Getty that you and I have previously spoken about?
Brand: For me, like almost everyone else, it further confirms that there is indeed a major structural problem at the Getty that transcends any individual personalities. The Getty Museum is one of the America’s greatest culture assets: I think the public and the museum’s hard-working staff deserve better than this.
Rosenbaum: Do you think that part of the problem in the director search is that top candidates for this post would not want to be Cuno’s subordinates?
Brand: I don’t think it’s so much a matter of Jim personally but, again, the structure that the new director would have to work within, not to mention the recent track record. And it’s not at all clear whether they really want a strong director to lead the museum. No major art museum director has total autonomy, but to be a successful leader, you do need an appropriate level of authority and an ability to engender discussion on important issues without fear of reprisal.
Rosenbaum: Is this an unusually long time for a director’s search? I suppose it may have been stalled by Wood’s death and the understandable feeling that the president’s post should be filled first.
Brand: Two years is rather a long and awkward time for an interim director. But you’re right: Even though a vacancy had been created first at the museum, it did make sense for them to deal with the presidency first.
Rosenbaum: Since you worked so hard to improve relations with source countries, I’d also be curious about your reaction to the Getty’s having appointed someone with a repatriation-hostile reputation.
Brand: I’m just glad that, based on his recent comments [scroll to bottom; my link, not Brand’s], Jim has come around to the position that I had charted for the Getty Museum and that the AAMD had also adopted.
Rosenbaum: Have you been approached about returning to the Getty? Is this something you would ever consider?
Brand: I certainly do retain a deep love for the Getty Museum and its potential for extraordinary innovation in collaboration with its Getty partners. But to answer your question: No. (And I’m not sitting by the phone holding my breath, either.)