Getty Trust’s Barry Munitz sets things straight

first_img The portrait was one of a man with “grand appetites” who prospered while the museum was experiencing cutbacks. On Friday, Munitz sat in a conference room on the Getty “campus,” and, in his first extensive interview on the recent controversies, addressed these issues with Daily News columnist Mariel Garza and entertainment editor Rob Lowman. He also talked about the appointment of the museum’s new director, Michael Brand, and the opening of the renovated villa in Malibu (at a cost of $275 million) that will house most of the antiquities collection. He was joined by Michael Sitrick, who heads Sitrick and Co., a public relations firm that is often called in when an organization has an image problem. Here are excerpts of the interview: DN: The former curator of antiquities, Marion True, who resigned earlier this month, has been charged by Italian authorities in a conspiracy to traffic looted antiquities. The case may or may not have merit, but the question of artifacts that might have been stolen or looted has been going on a lot longer. Did the Getty need to take action earlier? Though controversy swirls around him, Getty Trust President and CEO Barry Munitz weathers the storm calmly. In the past year, Deborah Gribbon, the director of the museum – the most visible part of the trust – resigned amid rumors of conflict with Munitz. Then an investigation by Italian officials resulted in the curator of antiquities, Marion True, being charged with conspiring to traffic in looted antiquities. Earlier this month True resigned, not as a result of the charges but over a loan arranged in 1995 by one of the museum’s main suppliers of antiquities so she could buy a vacation home in Greece. In June, a lengthy article in The Los Angeles Times raised questions about the way Munitz runs the nonprofit organization that is worth around $9 billion. Munitz, who has an annual compensation package worth about $1.2 million, was accused of lavish spending of trust money on first-class travel and extravagant dining. He was also accused of OK’ing a real-estate deal with Eli Broad that gave the billionaire businessman a $700,000 break. Munitz: As an issue, not only has it been going on for a long time here, but the cultural patrimony issue particularly around antiquities … is an issue that transcends us and has been a long-standing issue at every major museum in the world. For centuries, there’s been this argument over what happens when you take something out of the ground and who owns it. In the old days, when you conquered another country, one of the things you did was take their art. You go around Europe and you’ll see museums that are based on other museums. You stand in the middle of the Place de la Concorde (in Paris), there’s the Egyptian obelisk. So when I arrived in 1998, we had just opened (facilities in) Brentwood and had closed Malibu, and our antiquities collecting at that point was coming to a close. There’s been some acquisitions since, but relatively small, mostly because the market had tightened up and the guidelines were getting tighter and tighter. So by the time I arrive, there’s a broad question of provenance, ownership, national policy … It becomes a lot more intense when we are notified now almost five years ago that the Italians are considering criminal charges against the head of the curatorial department. We have in the past as an institution returned objects when people have submitted evidence – irrefutable proof – that it belongs back there. In some instances, it’s because they’ve shown the object’s been stolen. So you have one issue literally that it’s been stolen from a collection in Italy – which has happened once or twice – and it goes back immediately. In other instances, (we asked) if (the object) came out of the ground, was recorded properly. Did it go to a midlevel fence or a questionable dealer? And if it wound up here or some other museum, when someone submits that documentation, we’ve sent those objects back. As when you saw when Marion resigned … it wasn’t over objects in the collection. … At the same time, we’ll look even more intensely at our collection. How was it built? How was it put together? Is there reason even now to believe that there are objects that should be sent back? DN: There was a report of a deal offered to Deborah Gribbon in 2003 from the Italian government. What do you know of that? Munitz: I’ll tell you what I know because a group was here – a Cabonari group, in effect, the equivalent of the attorney general. Because remember, unlike our system, this was a single judge in the grand jury procedure. Now in the trial version, it will be three judges, with a lead judge. Neither with a jury. So representatives came. We had some discussions. We showed them our files. We showed them material. I sat in one of those meetings and listened to them debate. Then Deborah Gribbon and Peter Erichsen, our general counsel, went to Italy – I don’t remember if it was before or after that conversation – and to my knowledge it never got to point of: Here’s a specific settlement. It was more, is this possible? What would you do in this case – and again, you’d have to talk to Deborah and Peter for detail. But as it got to me, there was never a point where someone came to me and said “Read this proposed settlement and see if you’re willing to sign it.” DN: There’s a sense that at Getty on the hill, there is something going sour. Could you address how that fits into the public perception … the perception of problems? For example, the perception of extravagance, the change in management. Munitz: The fact is there hasn’t been a lot of people leaving. Somebody says something. They don’t check the facts. Or we answer the facts and they get ignored. (For instance,) the Oakmont Drive real estate deal. (Where they say I) did a deal with Eli Broad. The fact is when you look at it, there was 500 pages (of documents) we gave to the IRS. They said there was no problem. We gave it to our audit committee. They said there was no problem. We gave hundreds of answers of questions to the Los Angeles Times, including a five-page memorandum from the person who did oversee that transaction. They chose to ignore it. The “it” that they chose to ignore was that I had nothing to do with the transaction once I knew (Broad) was a potential buyer. But once it’s there in the paper, it gets picked up by others. Similarly, there has been dramatically more change in the upper levels of the Los Angeles Times than in the upper level of the Getty. Morale is an issue there. Morale is an issue here. There hasn’t been a massive outflow. There hasn’t even been a major outflow of people. The museum director resigned and one other person who was her closest partner and colleague went at the same time. Not a single person left the museum in the year since she left. Everybody stayed. We went from a search (for a new curator) and hired the No. 1 candidate on everybody’s list, Michael Brand. He saw no reason not to come. Everybody else is overjoyed that he’s coming. DN: Let’s talk about the endowment and the assets of the Getty. Munitz: Unlike most museums and unlike all foundations, there’s a gross difference between our assets and our endowment. People confuse them. Remember, we spend $1 billion every three or four years, depending on the year, out of that endowment. It’s basically 93 percent of our total revenue. The only other revenue to this institution is the bookstore, parking and food service Those are minimal. We don’t charge admission. So keeping in mind that $1 billion every three to four years is coming out of that endowment, when I arrived, it was in its low $4s (billions). It got to its high at about $5.6 billion, roughly, at the height of the market in the ’00-01 year. It got as low as about $3.7, $3.8 (billion) as everybody was under that market pressure and we were continuing to spend. It’s now back over $5 billion. So the endowment is as strong as it’s ever been. The assets are the endowment plus the buildings and the art. … And we’ve continued to buy pretty aggressively, so some of that is a shift from liquid asset to illiquid asset. So if we buy a painting for $50 million, it’s an asset, but it’s no longer part of the endowment. So we’re basically, roughly, at the same level of financial strength. DN: So that means that you’re spending a quarter of a billion dollars a year. Munitz: Exactly right. Because the budget’s built on 5 percent of the last three years’ rolling average endowment value … that would be roughly $5 billion. We’ll take 5 percent of that. That $250 million will be the starting place for the fiscal ’07 budget that will start July 1, 2006. DN: So out of that comes your salary, and the salaries of the other people here, acquisitions. Munitz: About half of that goes to infrastructure and operating support. So security, information technology, human resources, the utility bills, maintenance, sort of the nonprogramming side. And a little more than half of it goes to all the programming and content side. DN: Compared to most museums, you’re the rich guy on the block. People have questioned that if you have so much money, should you be doing fundraising. Munitz: We have a lot of money, but we don’t have an infinite amount of money. And one of the things that I was asked to do when I arrived was to put some discipline and some structure into that budget. The difficulty when you have a place that’s so relatively more wealthy than any other nonprofit is that a lot of people believe – inside and outside the organization – that you can afford to do everything. We can afford anything, but we can’t do everything. When Harold Williams came in 1981, and they began their planning in 1983, the board’s decision was, we were not going to be just a traditional museum. We were going to be more of an arts/academic institution. And we were going to put resources behind grant-making … conservation and research. (But) to some people, any dollar spent on the conservation institute, the research institute or the grant-making foundation is a dollar that could have been spent on a painting. DN: What do you need to raise funds for? Munitz: My concern was we ought not to be solely tied to one source of revenue, no matter what it was and no matter how strong it was. … My argument was, why not ask for corporate sponsors? So Merrill-Lynch is going to sponsor the first exhibition when we reopen the villa, and it sponsored the Degas photography exhibition. Do we need that money to have the exhibition? No. If we have the money, is it that much more that we can do, and one more exhibition that we can do, and one more object that we can buy? Absolutely. We can find sponsors, and we can find corporate patrons, and we can find people who will give us objects, and we can once in a while find people who will give us money. We are (also) in conversation about several naming opportunities at the villa. DN: You mean like the Staples Villa? Munitz: Well, not the villa per se. That will always be the Getty Villa, although it came up. We can’t rename the entire entity – at any price… (But take), for example, the Family Room. When we reopen the villa, the family room’s been funded by the Villa Council. There’s 30 volunteers, they pay $5,000 a year – something people said would never happen here. DN: It’s been a stated goal to reach out to the larger community and bring more people, more nonregular art patrons into the Getty. But to a certain extent, the visitors you get up here are of a certain socioeconomic group, they’re mostly white, a lot of tourists from Europe. How do you reach out to the rest? Munitz: One of the things we’re going to do at the villa is to ticket for people to come. We’re not going to charge. … But we will always hold that ticket so that (we’re) monitoring what schools have come. And if everybody’s coming from Harvard-Westlake and Brentwood – wonderful schools – and I don’t see anybody coming from Compton, what we do here is I take the buses there. We can’t do more than about 80,000 school visitors, and we did 78,000 last year. We’ll do 82,000 this year. In the academic year that just finished, the ethnic mix of the school visitors matched the ethnic mix of LAUSD. That was one of my goals, and people said it was impossible. So we work every day. Language, outreach, first-time visitors, Web site. What’s the value of the Web site if you don’t have a computer at home? How do you get to it? What do you do with it? How can we support it? Where’s the financial aid if you can’t even get a bus to come here, or boxed lunches? DN: Michael Brand comes from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Is he up for the task of running the Getty Museum? Munitz: I don’t think there’s any question that he’s up for the task. … Everywhere we went and everyone I talked to checking references said this is the up-and-coming great star, and he’s not yet 50 years old. Of everybody we looked at, he was more up to the task than anyone else. And I must tell you that, when we made the decision in the middle of August … not a day goes by that I don’t feel even better about the decision. DN: Will he be doing fundraising? Munitz: To the extent that we do development, my hope and expectation is that as he comes in, the burden of that responsibility is to him. … One of the reasons he seemed (like) a good candidate to us was that he knows how to do it. He likes to do it. And he’s done it successfully. DN: Let’s talk about what the L.A. Times has written about you. For example, that when the Getty was laying off staff in 2002, you asked for a raise. The Porsche paid for by the Getty; flying first-class on the museum’s dime with your wife, Anne. The things like that. Munitz: Let me take them in pieces. Virtually everybody here knows I drive a 1996 Chevy Camaro. It’s purple. It’s a Camaro convertible. It’s 9 years old with 50,000 miles on it. It cost $26,000 when I bought it, and I own it. The Getty car is a Porsche Cayenne. I drive it sometimes. When the board is here, they use it. It takes people back and forth to the airport. It’s an official car, which is basically assigned to me and available to anybody else who uses it. And it’s not my own car. It’s not my family car. It’s not my personal car. I didn’t ask for a raise. That’s how it gets twisted. … My salary (is) 25 percent lower than my predecessor’s. This year is the first time in the eight years that my salary was the equivalent of what the president’s salary was here in 1992. … The compensation is completely out of my hands. The travel and expenses are completely in accordance with institutional policies and procedures. In my contract, it says that the board chair or the board chair’s designee has to approve all of my expenses. Not just major trips. But if I buy a book at the store and it’s a Getty book, that goes into an approval process that has three levels of approval. I can’t reimburse myself for a dime. … The most elaborate process by far for the approval of anybody’s expenditures at the Getty is for me. In the contract, it’s no accident there’s a paragraph about travel for Anne in there. We’re going to need her to take some trips from time to time to help look at development, to get message out about who we are. We’re going to put in the contract how she’ll be reimbursed if she’s traveling for business. We have to submit every detail and voucher, which I do, and they have to be approved at three different levels. DN: Critics say that the members of the board are your friends. Munitz: There are members of the board I met for the first time when they joined the board or when I was asked to meet them for breakfast a month before they joined the board. This board is tough; it’s demanding. I don’t appoint them. They have a separate governance and leadership committee. … This is (a) demanding, responsible, thoughtful board. I have people who are not always happy with me on this board. It’s true. It’s the way a board should be. We don’t agree about everything. DN: Is this type of compensation common for the heads of nonprofits? Munitz: Most of the people who run a major university and most of (the) people who run either museums or foundation have houses or housing support. I get no help with that house whatsoever. That’s a major change. When I left Cal State and came here, I got a salary increase. … I don’t have the fancy house. I don’t have the fancy car. … If you talk to anybody who knows me, you won’t find anyone who describes me as an extravagant-living person. … Part of it is a question of interpretation. To somebody who’s never flown first-class, first-class is an extravagance. … Those are silly things to me. I do what I’m asked do. DN: Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) said he was looking into expenditures at the Getty; California’s attorney general is investigating. Munitz: Nobody at Grassley’s office ever called us or talked to me or anybody else at this institution to the best of my knowledge. The attorney general has asked for – and we are in the process of giving – information on all the issues raised in … the L.A. Times and elsewhere. We are comfortably and happily turning it all over to them. DN: Are you worried about your tax-exempt status? Munitz: I am not worried about it. The last two major pieces that related to the tax-exempt status were the review of the bond ratings … They kept our same rating. That was a strong endorsement. And the IRS has just finished a multiyear audit that specifically said, we have not changed your tax status. So when I say I’m not worried about it, it’s not some abstract thing, saying nothing is ever a problem. Every day that I work here, I’ll always worry about our tax status, to be sure that everything is being done properly. But every indication we’ve had so far, most fundamentally the IRS, they said, there’s no change to your tax status. DN: Through all this, have you ever considered resigning? Munitz: No … I love doing what I do. I’ve had different jobs in my life … and this is a terrific place to be. The staff and the programs are miraculously wonderful. I’ve never worked anywhere where I thought the criteria for success were, first and foremost, everybody loving me and everybody thinking every decision made was the right decision. DN: What’s the worst-case scenario of the Marion True trial for the Getty? Munitz: Being convicted is the worst case for the Getty. That’s the worst case for the art world. This is a question that faces all the major collecting museums. Something that happens to the Getty is something that happens to the Met, that happens to Cleveland, that happens to Boston. This is why the Association of Museum Directors has a special committee looking at these issues. It’s a worst-case challenge for the art-collecting community. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more