National Gallery turns its back on modern and contemporary art London

March 27, 2008

Dr Nicholas Penny only took up the position of director at the National Gallery in London in February this year and already he is stamping an impact (Bloomberg).

It had been thought that Penny may continue an idea introduced by the gallery’s previous director Charles Saumarez Smith, which proposed abandoning the 1900 cutoff point for works on display.

In an interview with Bloomberg in January 2006, during his 5 year tenure as director, Saumarez Smith said, “I personally have reservations about the idea that old culture stops in December 1899, and the modern world starts [. . .] Now we’re in the 21st century, we can be reasonably confident that there was plenty of great art in the early 20th century, and if the institution is to display great art, then you need to feel there’s a continuity to it.” However, Smith left the National Gallery for the Royal Academy of Arts in August last year after disagreements with the board’s chairman Peter Scott and his plans to acquire and display modern and contemporary art have been more or less scrapped.

New director Penny was reluctant about the idea in a recent press conference, “It would not be a major part of my acquisition policy at present to buy 20th-century works of art.” Instead, he is in favor of filling the gaps in the 19th-century section, which he believes needs more German pieces to complement the existing French works. However, a relationship of some form with more recent art was not quashed completely: “We do not want to concern ourselves seriously with any art of the 20th or 21st century without discussing the matter with our colleagues at Tate Modern or Tate Britain […] I hope relations with Tate will be very good.”

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