The J. Paul Getty Trust has announced that its president and CEO, James N. Wood, died of natural causes on Friday at the age of 69.
An internationally recognized leader in the arts, Wood came out of retirement in February 2007 to take the top job at the trust — the richest visual art institution in the world — a year after his predecessor, Barry Munitz, resigned amid revelations of questionable expenditures, poor staff morale, and controversy over certain antiquities acquisitions, the Los Angeles Times reports. Wood's mandate was to provide stability to the Getty and restore its credibility in the art world. To that end, he encouraged the trust's board and leadership to go public with more information about the institution's finances, including what its top executives earned.
Born on March 20, 1941, in Boston, Wood spent the greater part of three decades leading prominent art institutions, including the St. Louis Art Museum (1975-1980) and the Art Institute of Chicago (1980-2004). He also held curatorial and executive positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Buffalo-based Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
His tenure at the Getty hit a few bumps after the financial crisis and market meltdown of 2008-09 caused the value of the institution's endowment to drop 24 percent, leading to sharp reductions in head count, pay cuts for executives, and a rethinking of the institution's spending priorities. A dispute over who had ultimate say over funds for art acquisitions was also a source of friction between Wood and Getty Museum director Michael Brand, who resigned in January. Still, Getty Trust chair Mark S. Siegel said Wood's unexpected death represented the loss of both a respected and accomplished human being as well as a leader who made great headway in solving a problem that had dogged the Getty since the 1980s: how to make its four branches, including the museum, function as a whole greater than its individual parts.
"He was a man of total probity, imaginative and flexible of mind, and open to new ideas," said Philippe de Montebello, the former longtime director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art who knew Wood for more than forty-five years. "But at the same time he was driven by a sense of purpose — he had no patience for flimflam and silliness. He was a serious man."