They're doubtless cheering in the world of scholarship. The announcement yesterday that the director of the
Before he took on the job in 2008, Penny wrote and co-wrote outstanding books about the history of taste, the materials of sculpture, the art of Raphael and the
Yet Penny is leaving the gallery he loves after just six years in command - he previously excelled as a curator there - and only a couple of weeks after
Both are successes. Penny, although sceptical about "blockbuster" exhibitions, presided over the
His biggest achievement, however, has been to enrich the permanent collection and improve its display. Because he managed to get Titian's Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto (shared with the
Meanwhile, Nairne has turned the
I think it is very worrying that two such talented museum directors have apparently had enough. Ultimately, their dignified departures are personal matters and their own business. But it must be getting harder to run a big
The capital is famous for art in a way it has never been before, and tourists flow ceaselessly through its galleries. There's a media assumption that every exhibition should be a hit, a political belief that galleries should provide not just well-run collections but entertainment and education for everyone. Publicity and accessibility are everything.
Are we about to see a new technocrat generation of museum bosses who keep their heads down, put PR first and do all they can to meet goals defined by politicians and the press?
This year has seen a taboo broken when a critic actually called for a museum director to be sacked because of (supposed) poor attendances. That kind of pressure doesn't exactly leave much room to experiment.
Museums cannot just be machines for entertaining us. They should have a quieter side where the art comes first, the crowds second, and a scholarly side that reveres someone like Penny.
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