Promise of industrial action as National Gallery looks to cut security by half
The runaway success of the National Gallery’s Da Vinci exhibition seems to be under threat from the promise of industrial action by gallery assistants over proposed security cuts.
Last month over 200 members of gallery staff, including curators, presented gallery director Nicholas Penny with a petition demonstrating their opposition to new measures which mean each gallery assistant now oversees two rooms rather than one. Whilst gallery officials maintain that this initiative is part of a long-term strategy rather than a response to government pressure, those in opposition claim that the change of policy is detrimental to the gallery as it will leave valuable artworks open to vandalism or theft.
And this is more than just a hypothetical concern: last July, a man entered the gallery and vandalised two Poussin works with spray paint. The staff proposing action claim that this was only possible as a result of the new security policy, as the assistant overseeing that part of the gallery was in the next room at the time of the vandalism. Security in general seems to be a growing concern at the National Gallery, as this month saw a theft take place, albeit a bizarre one; a man managed to leave the gallery in possession of four toilet seats.
Negotiations, mediated by the Public and and Commercial Services Union, have been held between officials and gallery staff but apparently to no avail, as almost 180 members of staff voted for strike action in an initial ballot. This would take the form of a series of two-hour walk-outs during the lucrative Christmas period, meaning the gallery would have to be evacuated under health and safety rules.
A formal ballot must now be held to officially confirm whether action will be taken, but at this stage the gallery assistants show no signs are backing down; art lovers would be advised to act quickly if they want to be sure of seeing Da Vinci’s work for themselves. Words Maddie Bates © 2011 ArtLyst
Follow ArtLyst on Twitter for breaking art news and latest exhibition reviews