Getty CEO James Cuno Plans Major Spending, Defends Encyclopedic Museums

Getty Trust CEO and president James Cuno. (Photo: Art Institute of Chicago)

One week into his tenure as president and CEO of the Getty Trust, James Cuno–who previously served as director of the Art Institute of Chicago and who looks a bit like former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine–sat down with Jori Finkel at The Los Angeles Times to discuss his plans for the $5.3-billion institution. Below, some highlights.

Antiquities-Acquisition Policies
“The policy is to only acquire objects that can be shown to have left their presumed country of origin before 1970,” Mr. Cuno says. That requirement aims to dissuade potential looters from unearthing new material. “The conservation work and foundation work that we do internationally can’t be compromised.” The museum has attracted criticism in the past for acquiring works that some say were obtained inappropriately. Last year, for instance, an Italian court found that the Getty had purchased a statue in 1977 that had been illegally exported from the country.

Filling the Long-Vacant Directorship
The Getty Museum has been without a director since early 2010, when Michael Brand resigned the position, but Mr. Cuno is getting down to business on finding a replacement. He says, “I would be hugely frustrated if I weren’t able to make this hire within a year.”

Spending Serious Cash
As Observer contributor Marion Maneker points out on his blog, Art Market Monitor, Mr. Cuno has ambitious plans for the museums’ collections and confirms that the Getty is willing to spend substantial sums of money to acquire major works. “It could be frightening for some people,” he says. “There is a big difference between spending $100,000 on an acquisition, which many museum directors are used to doing, and spending tens of millions of dollars.”

Defending Encyclopedic Museums
Mr. Cuno emerges as a defender of the notion of encyclopedic museums, saying that they can be vital in times of “resurgent nationalism and sectarian violence”–like right now. Is the Getty an encyclopedic museum? “It really isn’t one,” he argues. “[T]he collection is overwhelmingly European—there are no East Asian, African or South Pacific departments for example.”

Loving Jacques-Louis David
We get just a touch of Mr. Cuno’s personal interests, with the news that a visit to the Louvre at the age of 19 was a pivotal moment in his life. While there, he espied Jacques-Louis David’s 1784 painting The Oath of the Horatii. Says the director, “The painting was so big and the figures were, I now know to say, so classical in derivation, they were so strong and muscular in presence, it was just astonishing.”

Getty CEO James Cuno Plans Major Spending, Defends Encyclopedic Museums