Monday, January 18, 2010

Museum Directors – changing of the guard

No sooner have I cited the eminent scholar, Christopher Menz, Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia as an example of a scholar director, than he chooses not to renew his contract after 5 years at the helm. The reason Menz gives is that state funding is inadequate to run the Gallery at a professional level. John Mcdonald (the art journalist and formerly senior curator at the NGA) has picked this up and delivered a broadside at the general paucity of gallery funding in SMH today.

Whilst I am sure John has a good point, I am not buying into that discussion today. Of more interest are a couple of things:
1) The AGSA Chairman, Michael Abbott was clearly put out that Menz did not consult him before resigning and, reading between the lines, is not close to Menz. That may partly be because Menz directly criticizes the Premier, Mike Rann, for not recognising the need for more ongoing funding, and Abbott in his role as a QC is currently representing Rann in a defamation action against Channel 7. That is always going to be a problem for a state/national gallery if the director and chair are not in alignment. The excellent recently published book on the history of the National Gallery, London by Charles Saumarez Smith is a fascinating read about this very issue of director/trustee tension, particularly pertinent as Saumarez Smith resigned as director in 2008 as a result of clashes with his Trustees.
An example of where it works well is the Edmund Capon (director) and David Gonski (Chair) relationship at AGNSW.

2) In regards to his successor, there seems to be a current trend to recruit museum directors in our region from the UK. Just before Christmas Te Papa announced that their new director (after the tragic death last year of Seddon Bennington whilst hiking) is to be Michael Houlihan, Director General , National Museum of Wales. Almost at the same time the WA Museum announced that their new director is to be Alec Coles, Director of Tyne and Wear Museums in the UK. And I understand that the replacement for Craddock Morton at the National Museum is unlikely to be appointed until mid year and is likely to be from overseas.

Let me hasten to add I see nothing wrong with this. Some of our great directors have been from the same source, notably Edmund Capon (AGNSW) and Patrick Greene (Museum Victoria), and it is unlikely the Powerhouse Museum would ever have been built with out the forcefulness and personality of Lindsay Sharp ( who went onto the Royal Ontario Museum and the UK Science Museum).

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