Thomas Gaehtgens, The J. Paul Getty Trust

TITLE: Director, Getty Research Institute

FUNDING AREAS: Fine arts, visual arts, and art history

CONTACT: tgaehtgens@getty.edu, 310-440-7335

IP TAKE: Although Gaehtgens has a limited involvement with grantmaking, he does oversee several scholarship and fellowship programs at Getty. Almost all of them are for advance predoctoral and postdoctoral research in the fine arts, an area in which Gaehtgens is an utmost expert.

PROFILE: Pretty much everyone affiliated with the Getty enterprise agrees that Thomas Gaehtgens is the perfect man for the job of directing the Getty Research Institute. But few people know how hesitant he was to take the position when he was first offered it. When the institute's previous director, Thomas Crow, left Getty to teach at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, Gaehtgens was given the opportunity to take his research to a different level.

Originally from Germany, Gaehtgens earned art history degrees from universities in Bonn, Freiburg, Vienna, and Paris. He has been described as a Renaissance man of art history, and he found his biggest passions in 18th- and 19th-century art from France and Germany. Gaehtgens headed the Art History Institute at the Free University of Berlin for several years, and in 1997 he founded the German Center for the History of Art in Paris. He accumulated interest in the museum industry and American modern art, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate from London's Courtauld Institute of Art.

In an interview with the LA Times, Gaehtgens said, “When he [James Wood] asked if I would think about going to the Getty, my first answer was, 'I am much too old.' He laughed and told me that he was kayaking when they pulled him out of retirement. I thought, 'No, I cannot leave Paris and Berlin. I am much too involved in this world.'"

Several lengthy conversations later, Gaehtgens agreed to join Getty because of the unique potential that a museum/conservation institute/research facility/philanthropic foundation combination had to offer. He finds his inspiration from being involved with different fields of study, and he views money as simple responsibility. He told the New York Times, "As someone who has done research for more than 40 years, the Getty institute is like heaven; it's scholarly arcadia."

James Wood, who was previously called out of his retirement to join Getty as well, commented that Gaehtgens was perfect for the position because of his international scholarly respect, wide areas of interest, proven leadership abilities, publications, understanding of complex organizations, commitment to art, and overall personality. Getty's curator of prints and drawings, Louis Marchesano, told the LA Times, "He's also a people person and a great administrator. The Getty is a big, complicated place and we have our own politics, so his ability to make allies and not enemies has been essential."

At the Getty Research Institute, Gaehtgens leads a staff of 11 senior staff members. Due to financial troubles in 2010, he had to lay off about 25 employees, close some positions, and hand an art publications database over to a another company. Despite these cutbacks, Gaehtgens has managed to keep research at the heart of Getty's operations. Since 2009, he has written and edited the annual Getty Research Journal, which features articles about the institute's projects, research studies, acquisitions, and scholarships.

The Getty Research Institute is one of the largest art history libraries in the world, with scholarly research books, a visiting scholars program, public exhibitions, and lectures. The research institute is just one of the four interconnected parts of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The others are the foundation, the museum, and the conservation. Although Gaehtgens's involvement with grantmaking is limited, he is a major player on the Getty scene, and he does oversee the one-year fellowships for art scholars around the world. Gaehtgens also oversees Getty Scholar Grants, Pre- and Postdoctoral Fellowships, Harald Szeeman Research Project Postdoctoral Fellowships, and Library Research Grants.

To learn more about current grant opportunities at the Getty Research Institute, check out the foundation's How to Apply page.

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