A radical new structure has recently been created by Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery, for his expanding empire, which in two years will be inaugurating the Tate Gallery of Modern Art at Bankside and already includes the Tate at St Ives in Cornwall and in Liverpool as well as the main building at Millbank. The directors of both Millbank and Bankside have now been appointed, Stephen Deuchar and Lars Nittve respectively.
The innovation is that neither “owns” a collection nor has his own curators. These come under a third director, Jeremy Lewison, who will “lend” them as required to the various parts of the Tate empire.
Millbank will remain the seat of administration, but will also have 35% more space in its new role as the TateGallery of British Art (TGBA). By 2001 a £32 million remodelling of the building will have taken place. Its director, Stephen Deuchar, is a forty-one year-old specialist in eighteenth-century British art who previously was a curator, and then head of the big development project, at the National Maritime Museum. He talked to The Art Newspaper about his new job.
How do you see the role of a national collection nowadays?
Stephen Deuchar We have to come to grips with what we mean by British art, which, given British history, can’t be taken for granted. The question of Britishness and how British culture is of relevance in a multi-cultural environment will be something that the gallery will have to address at some level.
Does this mean that you could find yourself with a Scottish gallery, Irish gallery, Welsh gallery, Caribbean gallery and so on?
If you take as the long-term remit of the Tate Gallery for British Art to represent artistic production from all quarters of British life today and their heritage, then you would, I suppose, end up going in that direction.
Supposing there is a component of social life in Britain, let us say, Bengali, that happens not to be producing any good art at present. Would you, nonetheless, feel that you had to represent it?
I think you might decide that you were going to have a Bengali art exhibition which mixed a comparison with Bengali heritage and Bengali contemporary developments. As so often happens, you do an exhibition, put it together for the public, you understand the response and something emerges from that which gives you a stronger direction about whether the art is an appropriate acquisition for the gallery. I am not ruling out anything.
So much for deconstructing the nature of Britishness as it is today, or might be in future, but what about the relationship of British art to the art of the rest of the world?
It’s going to be very important that we don’t banish all non-British art from the Millbank galleries. In 2001, we are doing a show of American nineteenth-century landscape painting, American-supplied, because its relationship with British art is significant.
Will you tell the story chronologically in the galleries?
If you can imagine the Millbank site divided in four, each quadrant represents a period of time. The first would probably be up to the end of the eighteenth century, the second would be the nineteenth century, the third, the twentieth, and the fourth, a mixture of contemporary—which by that stage will be twenty-first-century—and exhibitions-based.
There will also be the Clore gallery with the Turners, and the new exhibition centre which will be downstairs. Within each quadrant we will have a mixture of theme and artist-focused galleries, so there will still be, for instance, two new galleries devoted to Constable. But we will also introduce, within that sequence, thematic galleries which are almost like exhibitions. You could take a theme that covered 300 years in one gallery as well as having focused shows.
Isn’t it very confusing for people who want to see British art to discover that there’s British art also in the National Gallery and at the V&A?
If one wanted to avoid the charge of provincialism, one would seek to ensure that British artists were represented at more than one institution. British art clearly is part of the histories of the V&A and National Gallery as well as the Tate Gallery. If one moves away from the highly charged questions of ownership, and turns instead to the issue of appropriate locations for the display of particular names, the situation becomes freed up a little and I would like to think that for the opening year of the Tate Gallery of British Art in 2001, we will be able to borrow-in material from other national collections to help us celebrate this launch of a national gallery.
It was at an exhibition of eighteenth-century English art nearly twenty years ago that the so-called “new art history” first aroused excitement. It has been slow to make its mark in the galleries at the Tate. Is this still an issue?
In many museums around the world, not just in London and certainly not just in the Tate, there is a gap between the scholarship that curators are pursuing and the kind of scholarship that is pursued in universities.
The so-called new art history, has been around an incredibly long time and it’s begun to affect the way art is perceived by the general public. Museums and galleries can ignore developments in art history at their peril, and I would like to explore ways in which a sort of more contextual form of interpretation is introduced.
I would certainly like to encourage stronger links between university academics and curators of exhibitions.
Could you give an example of a contextualisation which could be done in the galleries?
The obvious example is the “In focus” type of exhibition.
What is the relationship of this institution going to be to Bankside?
Millbank, the Tate Gallery of British Art, opening in 2001, is everything British from the sixteenth century through to the twenty-first century. The Turner Prize, which has always been about British art, remains here.
Bankside is effectively Britain’s national gallery for 1900 onwards, the National Gallery’s focus coming to a close around 1913. Bankside is international and, therefore, includes British art post-1900. So twentieth-century British material could potentially be shown in any one of the Tate galleries: Millbank, Bankside, Liverpool or St Ives. It’s true that you will not as a visitor to London automatically know where to find a Francis Bacon picture, but I do think that the public will actually be advantaged by the possibility of seeing different works in different contexts.
What is the constitutional relationship between yourself, Jeremy Lewison and Lars Nittve, and what is the role of Nick Serota?
The analogy that I think is most helpful is a company with a board of directors. The company is Tate Gallery and Jeremy, Lars and myself—we also have a director of finance and other people on the board of directors—all bring to that table, on the one hand a responsibility to the Tate Gallery, and, on the other hand, to our particular part of the Tate Gallery. Clearly, a very significant part is played by the chairman, Nick Serota.
What about Jeremy Lewison’s role as director of collections? Are the collections vested in him essentially to prevent you and Lars Nittve becoming tribalised, territorialised and possessive of the collections?
Jeremy looks after both the collections and the curators who are the experts. Jeremy’s principal focus is on acquisitions, cataloguing, research. If I want to do a particular display or exhibition, I will borrow from Jeremy the collections and the curators to do it, so there will be a series of secondments from the curatorial centre to the site directors, for periods that might be as short as three months or as long as three years.
So people might physically move from one building to another?
No, Millbank will remain the place where most of the Tate staff are physically located because there’s most of the accommodation here. Bankside is mostly display space.
What is your opening exhibition going to be?
I am conceiving the galleries themselves as the most spectacular ever exhibition of British art, which is why I’m looking at a whole series of loans to enhance the collections as they currently stand.
How many visitors do you expect to get there?
I fully expect the current visitor levels to Millbank, which are over two million, to continue. My job is to maintain those by increasing the pace and quality of the programmes here.