Artlyst is not normally one for conspiracy theories, but we have noticed an alarming trend with the seeming exodus of London’s leading museum directors. This includes the resignation of Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, Dr. Nicolas Penny retiring from the National Gallery, and Director Penelope Curtis resigning from Tate Britain – everyone is leaving in droves like rats from a sinking ship – and just before a general election.
This growing list also includes Sandy Nairne, the current director of the National Portrait Gallery who is leaving the job early this year in order to pursue his writing career and the creation of his own art, as reported by The Guardian. Nairne has been Director of the NPG for the past 12 years, after he left his position at the Tate in 2002. Over the course of his tenure as Director, visitor numbers have increased by a third to around two million a year and he has brought in sell-out exhibitions, including the Freud exhibition which included the artist’s last painting left unfinished on the easel. So why jump ship now?
Nairne told The Guardian, “I am very proud of what we have achieved over the past decade. The fact that two million visitors now come each year to visit exhibitions, take part in activities or see displays of this amazing collection in London, as well as around the country or online, is testimony to the dedication of all who work at the gallery and those who support it in so many different ways. The gallery is in very good shape and will go from strength to strength.”
Nairne’s term at the National Portrait Gallery has been described as ‘exemplary’. Sir William Proby, the chair of trustees, comments on Nairne’s achievements: “He has significantly increased visitor numbers, put on some wonderful exhibitions, such as Lucian Freud Portraits, and overseen many major commissions and acquisitions, including the [Anthony] Van Dyck self-portrait this year. He has built a very strong team and prepared them well for the future.”
It would seem that this current trend among museum directors has no end; with the director of Tate Modern, Chris Dercon, rumoured to be negotiating a new appointment as artistic director of the experimental Berlin theatre Volksbühne, the German publication Sueddeutsche Zeitung has reported.
The speculation first began when Dercon was spotted with Berlin’s cultural affairs secretary, Tim Renner, at the experimental theatre house’s 100th anniversary. If the rumours are indeed substantiated – which interestingly a spokesperson for the senate’s department of cultural affairs did not deny, adding that they were currently “negotiating” – then Dercon’s appointment won’t go into effect until 2017.
Artlyst asks are all of these departures a coincidence? Or are the heads of London’s top museums privy to information regarding the future funding of the capitals art institutions? A mass exodus before potential cuts that would undermine their tenures, and the blame game commences as visitor numbers drop?
Whatever the reason, the spate of resignations seems far from coincidental, and exactly at a time when – post-election – our museums will require support and defence, from directors with experience and strong track records – to ensure that their voices are heard if the funding axe drops – but instead they all appear to have run away from the chopping block leaving opportunities for new and exciting directions.
Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved