Tate Trustees and the public interest

The Tate recently named two new trustees, one of whom /* 9-970x90 */ is painter Tomma Abts. She is a 44-year-old German, recently appointed Professor of Painting at

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the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, who won the Turner Prize in 2006. As an artist trustee, she
replaced Jeremy Deller, who won the Turner Prize in 2004. Abts’s paintings are all the same small size (48 x 38cms) – 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 google_ad_height = 90; curtains at google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; 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 google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; a trustee of an important British museum.

The 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 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 the functions of trustees are drawn up by the Tate itself, not by independent arbiters. Such complacency hardly reassures an outsider that the public interest, rather than the Tate’s, is being looked after. Indeed, such self-scrutiny is hardly better than the continuing disgrace of policemen investigating their own mistakes.

In 2008 the number of trustees

was increased from 12 to 14 and as required src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> by the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 “at least three” of these must be artists. Thirteen are appointed by
are mainly those with business expertise, and who can serve up to two terms of
four years (a period of office trimmed recently from five), artist trustees currently serve only one term of four years. You may find it odd – I certainly do – that while there are three


contemporary artists with gilt-edged State Art credentials on the Tate’s board of trustees there is no place for a single art historian.

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I’m obviously old-fashioned because a museum of historical art with no art historians sitting on its governing board seems google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; verging on the perverse.

When an artist trusteeship becomes vacant it is widely advertised in the papers, giving the impression that any capable, knowledgeable, articulate artist of repute might apply.

Nothing could be further from the truth, for there is a codicil written in invisible ink along the bottom of these ads, which reads: “If you have not won or at the very least been nominated for the Turner Prize, kindly fuck off and don’t waste our time.” The Tate squanders scarce cash paying for these advertisements which are
nothing short of a calculated
deception. Artist trustees are in fact a self-appointed clique comprising only winners of the Turner Prize with a couple of reliable /* xin2 */ also-rans chucked in. Since new regulations were
imposed in 1992 the only exceptions to this rule have been Julian Opie, who famously refused his nomination for the Turner on the grounds that the prize “had become a frivolous publicity stunt”, and Bob and Roberta Smith, the sobriquet of a dimwit called Patrick Brill, who is //--> otherwise a regular purveyor of infantile stunts at Millbank – you may recall his Tate Christmas tree whose lights visitors were asked to illuminate by peddling a generator. He’s very concerned about the environment apparently.

Being a trustee involves attending six meetings a year and is said to require a day a month in reading and preparation. I must point out that the Tate’s artist trustees are easily the worst attenders at these meetings, and are frequently absent. In the case of Anish Kapoor (Turner Prize winner, 1991) his absenteeism, which included missing half the meetings in two consecutive years and scarpering early from others, would have surely seen him sacked from the board of any efficiently run private enterprise.

Of currently serving artist trustees two are Germans – besides Abts the other is magazine photographer


Wolfgang Tillmans (Turner Prize winner, 2000). Could they really not find a British photographer, or even a British abstract painter, worthy of these positions? Admittedly, Germans do most things better than we do but surely this is insulting to British
artists. And how can a professor at a

German art school, which presumably requires her to actually attend some
of the week, perform


the duties of a trustee required to be resident here?

The process by which artist trustees are


– laughably characterised as “an open competition” or “an open competitive process” – is indicative of what happens when a clique achieves a complacent monopoly and is allowed

is in the interests of these artist trustees to 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

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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

Process Overview:

artists of a more independent, more knowledgeable, more