Penelope Curtis Leaves Tate Britain After Pressure From Art World


Penelope Curtis has left Tate Britain to take up a new job in Portugal

Penelope Curtis, who is leaving Tate Britain

By Hannah Furness, Arts Correspondent

7:58PM BST 31 Mar 2015

The director of Tate Britain, Penelope Curtis, is to leave the country
to take up a new role at a Portuguese gallery, after facing heavy
criticism from the UK art world.

Curtis, who was appointed director in 2010 and oversaw a major
refurbishment of the gallery, has been appointed head of the Museu
Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.

She will become the first foreign director of the small gallery, which
houses a 6,000-strong collection of works accumulated by Armenian
oil magnate Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian.

The move, now officially confirmed, will bring an end to Curtis’s
controversial time at Tate, in which she has been subject to what
the Art Newspaper described as criticism which “verged on a vendetta”.

Last year, some influential art critics called for her time at the
helm to be brought to a swift end, citing exhibitions they felt
unsuccessful and only appealing only to a minority.

Others, including the Telegraph’s Richard Dorment, put up a spirited
defence of Curtis, saying calls to sack her were “sheer madness”
and pointing out she “has already done more to change Tate Britain
for the better than any director since the great Sir Nicholas Serota”.

Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Figure’ on show in Walk Through British
Art at the Tate Britain (Paul Grover)

During her time at the gallery, she has overseen a much-lauded £45m
redesign of the building and widely-praised rehang of the entire
permanent collection, as well as exhibitions of the works of JMW
Turner, Lowry and the Pre-Raphaelites.

She has also approved Art Under Attack, a show about iconoclasm awarded
one star by this newspaper, and Ruin Lust, which left the reviewer
“disappointed and frustrated”.

Calls for her dismissal began in earnest in April last year, when
figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions showed
visitor numbers fell by 10 per cent in 2013 to 1.38m.

Figures released earlier this month show a further fall to 1.36,
and 20th place in a table of UK attractions.

Art critic Waldemar Januszczak declared “Curtis has to go. She really
does,” while Brian Sewell lamented a “drop in intellectual standards”.

Earlier this month, following the launch of Sculpture Victorious,
the Spectator declared: “Curtis must certainly go now.”

Visitors to Art Under Attack at Tate Britain (Christopher Pledger)

Announcing her new job, Curtis said she admired the Lisbon gallery
“deeply” and would like “keep all that is good about the museum”
while “developing ways in which it can make more of its context
and position”.

She will remain at Tate Britain until July to work out her notice

Responding to the news, Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate
galleries, said: “We shall miss Penelope but we are delighted that
a distinguished British scholar is the first international Director
to lead and develop this prestigious museum.”

He added: “Over the last five years Penelope Curtis has led Tate
Britain with a clarity of vision that has resulted in the successful
redevelopment of the gallery and a highly acclaimed rehang of the

“She established a new chronological presentation and introduced
free changing focus displays which have allowed the Gallery to
present specific artists, themes or new research relating to Tate’s

From: A. Papazian

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