Tate trustees and the public interest

In 2011 the Tate named two new trustees, one of whom is painter Tomma Abts. She is a 44-year-old German, recently appointed Professor of Painting at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, who won the Turner Prize in 2006. As an artist trustee,

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she replaced Jeremy Deller, who won the Turner Prize in google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; 2004. Abts’s paintings are all the same small size (48 x 38 cms) – it is claimed this tic //--> is conceptually
crucial for a reason never convincingly explained – and consist of polite abstract designs which might
have looked original on curtains at the 1954 Ideal Home Exhibition. So much for the Cutting Edge. The Tate claims her pictures “possess a formal definition and coherence that suggests that they could never have existed any other way … [and] seem to achieve what only painting can, inhabiting both this reality as an object or ‘thing’, and a parallel world with its own set of rules and relationships that demand to be judged on their own terms.” As per with their interpretive literature, all helpful stuff. Am I being cynical? Yes. Why? Because using any sensible criteria Abts doesn’t deserve to be a trustee of an important British museum.


job of Tate trustees is to oversee the efficient running of the gallery “as guardians of the public interest” – and please note that it says ‘the public interest’ not ‘State Art’s
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interest’, for as you will discover these two mutually exclusive agendas tend to become blurred in the minds of certain individuals. Improbable as it sounds, guidelines for

were able to defend their fellow artist for the benefit of other sceptical /* xin2 */ trustees. They pointed out that it was the job of the Tate

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provoke controversy and discussion, which this work did.

It is in the interests of these artist trustees to

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support the Director. They know they will be serving only for a brief period following which they might reasonably look forward to the reward of a Tate retrospective or other continued patronage, purchases etc..

Serota has stated a preference for such younger trustees. Referring to the trusteeship

of Anthony Caro many years before, he remarked in 1998 to the Sunday Times: “Tony was well over 60 when he became a trustee. He was a very effective trustee, actually. He cared passionately about certain things and was a powerful force … but it just seems to work better when you have artists who are a new
generation, or indeed erring //--> on the younger side, really.” And we know why he thinks it “seems to work better”, because older artists of a more independent, more knowledgeable, more experienced character might argue cogently for a policy or direction other than the one being pursued by the Director. They have nothing to lose by disagreeing with him. Let’s face it, the current crop of artist trustees is in Serota’s pocket. They owe him
and he knows it. google_ad_slot = "8637400688"; He can rely on their support without a second thought.

In a 2008 interview Serota said of his trustees: “I don’t have any part to play in their appointment”. Remember this, it’s important and we’ll return to it in a second.

Many years ago

Serota said that public nominations for the Turner Prize
(perhaps you don’t remember that ridiculous charade


whereby we all wasted our stamps and faxes) were seriously considered by the judges. We discovered in 2006 what we already knew, courtesy of an indiscreet Turner Prize judge, that this was in fact a lie and they were binned with risible disregard. We also discovered at the same time, and from the same source, that Turner Prize judges were given

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a list of appropriate artists and exhibitions – just to help them along you know, point them in the right direction. And there we were thinking in the innocence of our ignorance that they might nominate anyone…

Serota also

stated in 2005 that the Tate only rarely acquired work by serving trustees. The Jackdaw
checked up on that and discovered (see the editorial for Dec/Jan 2006 on our website) that he wasn’t telling the truth. Indeed, this whopper cost him a bollocking from the Charity Commission. There were also a number of other flagrant economies with the truth concerning the Tate’s acquisition of work by serving trustee Chris Ofili, who was naturally a Turner Prize winner (1998), which also resulted in another six of the best from the CC. (I almost mentioned here the fact that in the last editorial – also on our website – we indicated how the google_ad_width = 970; Tate recently misled us over their attendance figures, but you must be getting fed up
with that one.)

So, bearing

in mind Serota’s far from perfect form, when he remarks “I don’t
have any part to play in their appointment” I


need to ask myself: ‘Do I give him the benefit of the doubt and believe him this time?’ Well, as it happens, no I don’t. Even cursory familiarity with the Trustees’ minutes betrays this one as untrue. On the contrary he is frequently involved in their appointment; indeed, the process of Trustee appointment is administered by his own office. He even attends candidate interviews “in an advisory capacity”. Presumably he offers ‘advice’ which