"At various moments I've given some thought to looking elsewhere and taking other opportunities. But the reality is, I really love Los Angeles. I think it has tremendous possibility, and I want to be part of that. The same is true of the Getty."
A native of Washington, D.C., Gribbon grew up in a house decorated with reproductions of artworks at the National Gallery of Art and frequently visited the museum with her parents. She graduated from Wellesley College as an art history major in 1970 and went on to Harvard University, receiving her doctorate in 1982, with a dissertation on French Impressionist Edouard Manet.
She planned to teach at a university but landed at the Gardner Museum, largely because she and her husband needed to find a medical school for him and a job for her in the same city. "I taught part time in Boston and loved it, but I've never had second thoughts about working at a museum," she said. "I believe very strongly in the power of art and the importance of history, and in the role of museums, where it all comes together."
So far, she has worked largely behind the scenes at the Getty. Walsh characterized her as a "tough and shrewd" but gentle administrator who "knows how to manage talented and sometimes difficult people."
But Gribbon said the best part of her job is working closely with the collection and watching the public in the galleries.
"I'm not the museum director who graduated from business school. I know how to organize things. I hope I inspire people, and I think I'm pretty decisive and have a sense of direction. But for me it is about the work of the museum; it's about the opportunities, the way we serve the public and the place that we have in Los Angeles."
Much of the excitement at the museum has come from its rapid evolution, she said. "The collection has grown far beyond what anyone ever imagined. There were many people who felt you simply could not build a collection of great quality and interest at this point in time. I think that's just manifestly wrong."
While the pace of collecting has slowed since the Getty Center opened, "the collection must continue to grow very, very actively," she said. "Everything we aspire to springs from the collection. And now that it has gained a distinctive character and shape, we can build on that."
Munitz concurred. "We are going to aggressively stay in the market," he said. But one difference between Walsh's and Gribbon's jobs is that she will devote a larger share of her time to "what we do with the collection," he said.
While declining to detail her plans, Gribbon said she hopes to expand the museum's temporary exhibition program, which has been well received by critics and the public alike. "I'd like to think that we bring exhibitions to Los Angeles that the public wouldn't see otherwise," she said. "I'm anxious to prove that you can do exhibitions that represent new and exciting research that is appealing to a general public, and that you can communicate the excitement and the interest of that scholarly work."
Running through a mental agenda, Gribbon emphasized improving access to the Getty, expanding community outreach, building relationships with other cultural institutions and maintaining a presence for contemporary art. Another important area for development is the Web. "The core of what we do is the experience with works of art. I don't ever want computers to replace that, but they can definitely enhance it," she said.
The reopening of the Getty Villa in Malibu also looms large. Scheduled for 2002, the project has been delayed by objections from neighbors who fear increased traffic and noise, but the California Coastal Commission has approved plans, and a lawsuit, consolidating several neighbors' complaints, is about to be heard and decided.
When the villa reopens as a museum and study center for antiquities, it will be "emblematic of the direction we want the Getty to take," Gribbon said. "It isn't only a museum; it is a place where people around the Getty will work in a very integrated fashion. And we will serve a multitude of audiences."
As the Getty moves into its next phase, Gribbon knows that the institution is still seen by some as an upstart. But that's an advantage, she said. "It gives you a moment to try something new, to not feel that you are bound by tradition that is becoming moribund. People take you seriously based on the work you do. We do good work, and I think that's recognized."