Getty - Behind the Doors of the Getty Trust

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This presentation was designed & delivered by in May 2008 at Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on art law dealing with museums and antiquities acquisition.

Text of Getty - Behind the Doors of the Getty Trust

  • 1.


    • The Getty Trust
      • The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution; it is the worlds wealthiest institution of the arts
        • As of June 2004, It has a charitable endowment in excess of $10 billion dollars.
        • Mission Statement
          • the Getty aims to further knowledge and nurture critical seeing through the growth and presentation of its collections and by advancing the understanding and preservation of the world's artistic heritage.
      • Focus is on visual arts through several programs
        • Getty Conservation Institute
        • Getty Research Institute
        • Getty Foundation
        • J. Paul Getty Museum


    • The Getty Trust
      • The board of trustees is the governing body of The J. Paul Getty Trust. The members of the board of The Getty Trust oversee all 4 of these programs and are in charge of how the endowment is spent. Per their governance statement:
      • The trustees, as a board or through board committees, set policies relating to spending, management, governance, professional standards, investment, and grant making.
        • They also oversee the internal and external auditors
        • They select the president and officers of the Trust and its programs
        • They review the performance and set the compensation of all the officers.


    • About J. Paul Getty (1892 - 1976)
      • "In my opinion, an individual without any love of the arts cannot be considered completely civilized."--J. Paul Getty, 1965.
    • At one time, was the richest man in America due to oil investments made in Saudi Arabia.
    • A fairly miserable person. Getty was notorious for being cheap, even installing a pay phone in his home & refusing to pay ransom for kidnapped son until he received his ear and then finally agreed to negotiated ransom only if son repaid him at 4% interest rate.
      • The poor shall inherit the earth but not the mineral rights
      • -- J. Paul Getty
      • His one passion was the collecting of antiquities


    • About J. Paul Getty (1892 - 1976)
    • Getty began collecting in earnest in 1938.
      • From his biography
        • While he took great pleasure in looking at art, as a collector, he remained a businessman concerned with market value, he began collecting during depression when prices were low.
        • Getty felt superior quality paintings were overpriced because they were already in museums. Thus, he collected decorative arts and antiquities. 'Better bargains' he said.
    • His first museum was housed at his ranch on the outskirts of Malibu and opened it to public on weekends.
    • He opened a second new museum in Malibu in 1974.


    • About J. Paul Getty (1892 - 1976)
    • The J. Paul Getty Museum [now Getty Villa at Malibu] opened in 1974
      • Modeled after the Villa dei Papiri which was buried under ash by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii, Italy in A.D. 79
    • The Getty Villa serves a varied audience through exhibitions, conservation, scholarship, research, and public programs. The Villa houses approximately 44,000 works of art from the Museum's extensive collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities, of which over 1,200 are on view.
      • Getty never saw it in person. He died in England in 1976.
      • The Getty Trust, ostensibly set up to manage his oil fortune and museum, now had a massive endowment; portion of which it had to spend to keep its charitable status


    • About J. Paul Getty (1892 - 1976)
    • The Trust bought several paintings; includingIrisesby Van Gogh in 1987 for $53.9 million USD, at the time, it was the most expensive painting in the world
    • They also built the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, which opened in 1997 and was modeled on an Italian hilltop town.
    • The J. Paul Getty Museum program of the Getty Trust runs both the Getty Villa and the Getty Center.
      • Its trustees are responsible for approving acquisitions, selecting its curator, overseeing the performance and payment of its officers
      • The actions of the museums staff are by definition those the board knows of and has signed off on as having approved if the board is doing its job.


    • What is a trustees duty / responsibility?
      • A boards primary object is to keep the museum running
      • Trustees are generally held to three duties:
      • 1) Duty of Care:
        • They are liable for gross negligence and fraud, like directors of a business corporation Their purpose is defined by charter. The Gettys Trust Indenture/charter outlines their duty as "the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge."
          • The California courts have interpreted and modified the Getty Trust Indenture to contribute broadly to the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge.
          • They should institute policies to further that mission and show good-faith efforts to do so.


    • What is a trustees duty / responsibility?
      • 2) Duty of Loyalty:
        • A board member has obligation to disclose in advance any possible conflict of interest (COI) with full details and to recuse themselves from discussion or voting on the issue if it comes up before board. If board has notice of COI, effects of conflict must be weighed before board and board should have procedures for dealing with this situation.
      • 3) Duty of Obedience:
        • The obligation to focus on the specific mission of the organization. What museum collects, how it collects, and public are set in charter. When establishing a collection management policy; the museum must stay within the boundaries of its charter.
          • (Source. Marie Malaro,A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections(2 Ed. 1998)


    • What statutes or guidelines can guide trustees/curators in shaping collection management policies:
    • In regards to acquisitions, we have:
      • UNESCO (1970)
        • Although U.S. is not party to UNESCO, UNESCO is influential and many museums follow the UNESCO enactment date of November 1970 as a date beyond which they will not deal with antiquities that do not have a provenance.
          • Antiquities without a provenance that have no recorded or verifiable history before this date are most likely looted from cultural heritage sites for illegal export or sale to private collectors or museums.
          • UNESCO (1970) was meant to curtail this trade in looted cultural prope