The Serpentine Gallery has come under fire from the Independent newspaper as well as the satirical Jackdaw blog for allegedly authorising a 45% salary increase for its gallery co-directors, Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Sources have claimed, over the holiday period, that £140,000 is now being paid to Peyton- Jones, a figure that exceeds Nicholas Penny, the director of the National Gallery and falls just short of the Tate’s Nicholas Serota, who receives £160,000 annually.
Hans-Ulrich Obrist, The Serpentine’s co-director has also had a reported increase in 2012 from £80,000 to £120,000. If the leaked figures are accurate Ms Peyton-Jones’s becomes one of the highest paid directors of any international arts institution. The Serpentine has stated that the rise was due to “bonuses against fundraising” which are “quite normal in the cultural sector”. They added “We do not release individual salaries. “These figures are made up of key individuals’ ‘whole packages’ and includes pension and National Insurance contributions.”
The Serpentine Gallery was established in 1970 and is housed in a neo-classical tea pavilion in Hyde Park. It does not have a permanent collection and is purely an exhibition space. Under the guidance of Payton- Jones and Obrist the profile of the gallery has spread internationally and the commissioning of the Serpentine Pavilion each year is an event as big as the Turner Prize. The Serpentine Sackler Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, recently opened to the public,in a disused Magazine, a former 1805 gunpowder store. Located five minutes’ walk from the Serpentine Gallery across the Serpentine Bridge, it comprises 900 square metres of new gallery space. The Serpentine has special status as a “regularly funded organisation” and receives £1.2m from the Arts Council, about a fifth of the gallery’s costs. It has also received 12 National Lottery awards totalling £6.8m. The rest of the funds come from private and corporate donations.
Notable contemporary artists have exhibited in the gallery, which was previously under the patronage of Diana Princess of Wales, until her death. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley, Yoko Ono, Richard Hamilton, Anish Kapoor, Richard Prince, Wolfgang Tillmans, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and currently Jake and Dinos Chapman, have mounted major shows at the Serpentine. The gallery also has an ambitious programme supporting emerging artists with strong leanings towards Moving image, Installation Art and Conceptual work.
So are these salaries justifiable? Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans-Ulrich Obrist are high on the list of taste makers in the contemporary art world. The pair consistently top the Art Review Power 100 list. If they were working in the private/commercial sector their salaries would be far greater. it is arguable that like the BBC or any other popular institution, it is important to reward the directors for a job well done, without too much moaning.