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Getty Sees No Changes in Paintings Policy

January 23, 1989|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Art Writer

"I'm very proud of what I have done," said Myron Laskin as he resigned his post as curator of paintings for the J. Paul Getty Museum. He cited the purchase of "lots of paintings that are wonderful and beautiful" as the primary accomplishment of his four-year tenure.

"In so short a time we can't claim to have built one of the world's great collections of paintings," he said, "but what was once a small and patchy collection has been totally transformed. We have some very good and interesting things."

A museum announcement last week of Laskin's resignation stated that he was leaving "to pursue scholarly research and publication, in part for the Getty museum." George Goldner, the Getty's curator of drawings since 1982, will become acting curator of paintings for a year while the museum conducts a search for Laskin's successor.

The surprise announcement sparked speculation about a possible shift in acquisitions policy, but Laskin, Goldner and museum director John Walsh strongly denied any such interpretation of the personnel change. "We will continue to look for the greatest and the rarest," Walsh said.

"Different curators do things in different ways, Walsh said, but the museum has not implemented a new policy. The Getty collects paintings from the 13th Century up to 1900.

Asked why Laskin was leaving a position that he characterized as "very exciting," the 58-year-old curator said, "It has become increasingly exhausting to try to deal with this art market. I'm no spring chicken and, after 21 years of museum work, I haven't caught my breath for a long time."

Laskin, a specialist in 16th- and 17th-Century Italian and French painting, received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. He came to the Getty from the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, where he was curator of European art for 16 years.

While at the Getty, Laskin has reinstalled the museum's painting galleries in Malibu, enlarged the painting department's staff and overseen the acquisition of about 70 paintings, including such major works as Andrea Mantegna's "Adoration of the Magi" and Dieric Bouts' "Annunciation," James Ensor's "Christ's Entry Into Brussels."

Curators at the high-profile institution, occasionally take a turn in the limelight--if not the hot seat--but Laskin said that wasn't his reason for leaving the Getty.

He also noted that no major museum curator makes purchases alone. "You have to have the support of the museum director and the trustees." The museum is one of seven organizations operated by the J. Paul Getty Trust, currently valued at $3 billion.

The Getty's acquisitions of paintings have been less controversial than its antiquities, but the institution's wealth has led to fears that the Getty would corner the Old Masters market.

The Getty's spectacular $10.5-million purchase in 1985 of Mantegna's Italian 15th-Century masterpiece, "Adoration of the Magi," fueled such speculation, but wildly escalating prices have subsequently put a damper on the institution. "The market, and not our will, has slowed our pace," Walsh said. "The paintings get rarer and the competition gets crazier."

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