In Honor of James Wood and his 25 Years at the Art Institute of Chicago

Photo: James N. Wood. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times

So many kind things have been said about James Wood that I’d just like to post some of the messages and comments that have come in, and welcome further kind words. As many of you already know, Jim Woods passed this weekend.

From the Associated Press:

LOS ANGELES — James N. Wood, the president and chief executive of the J. Paul Getty Trust, who also worked for 25 years at the Art Institute of Chicago, has died. He was 69.

He died unexpectedly of natural causes, Mark Siegel, who chairs the Getty’s board of trustees, said in a statement Saturday. Wood was found in his Los Angeles home late Friday.

Siegel paid tribute to Wood’s accomplishments during his three years at the Getty, including his focus on increasing collaboration between the Getty’s museum, foundation and research and conservation institutes.

“Jim valued collaboration, and he reinforced that value at the Getty,” Siegel said. “Jim led a strategic planning process that emphasized ways in which the Getty’s four programs could work together to further enhance the institution’s already strong worldwide reputation.”

Wood worked for a quarter century as director and president of the Art Institute of Chicago, then retired with his wife Emese to Rhode Island.

He came out of retirement to work at the Getty in December 2006, following the resignation of Barry Munitz.

Wood received his undergraduate degree in art history from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and his masters from the Institute for Fine Arts at New York University.

His areas of specialization included European paintings, sculpture and photography.

Wood is survived by his wife, two daughters and their families

When I was doing research for an article about the MCA and Art Institute,  James Woods’ name came up often, and always with respect and admiration. More importantly, he was described as “changing everything,” by modernizing the Art Institute’s infrastructure, along with its art program.

Beginning in the 1950’s, there was a painful history that spurred the creation of the MCA.  The rivalry, quite literally, ended with Woods in 1980. Lew Manilow, one of MCA’s founders, described Woods as “a hero,” and recalled how  Woods physically gathered the camps from the Art Institute and the MCA together for a meeting.  Manilow recounted Woods saying, ‘I don’t care who gets the [donated] art, as long as it stays in Chicago.’

So without further ado, I’ll paste in a coulpe messages I got via FB and open the comments section. (Everything is moderated, so give it a little time to go live)

I met Mr Wood years ago at Marianne Deson Gallery when I was part of her stable. He was kind, elegant and distinguished. Over the years he took an interest in what myself and other artists in Chicago were up to. Very sad indeed…Much too young…
-Gary Justice

I met Jim Wood in the later 1980s when he helped to develop a collaborative program between Northwestern University and The Art Institute of Chicago centered on art studio and conservation media practices for art history graduate students. A fine man in every respect.
-William Conger

Jim was a wonderful colleague. His profound enjoyment of art, and curiosity about culture was a great model for anyone who had the opportunity to speak with him. I really admired him as the Director when he was at the Art Institute, in part because he left us alone, and often deferred to our opinions, even when he didn’t believe in them. A very selfless man. I will always remember, at the time of the MCA’s build-up to their new building, when he gathered curators who deal in modern and contemporary art at AIC and insisted that we leave their donors alone so that they could get their feet in the new digs. And then, a few years later, when it was clear that they were into their thing, he once again released us to compete for the support of donors who divided their interests between institutions.

It was an honor to work with him. And Emese, his wife, is equally generous, smart, and lovely. I am really sad for her, and their daughters.
– Mark Pascale