It has been announced that Maria Balshaw is to take over from Nicolas Serota as new director of Tate. Director of the Whitworth, Manchester Art Gallery and the cultural leader for Manchester City Council, Manchester will be sorry to see her go.
However her election is an exciting move for the Tate and in turn Britain’s art world. Not only is she the first female director of Tate, but will prove to be a strong force toward greater representation of women in art (some of the most prominent shows at the Whitworth under Balshaw have been of the work of female artists: Marina Abramovic, Cornelia Parker, Sarah Lucas, Elizabeth Price)
The importance she places on equal representation will hopefully not just apply to gender. There is much improvement needed at Tate in their representation of artists living and working outside of Europe and America and, although Balshaw may have been able to achieve a little on this front at the Whitworth, there is a great deal more work to be done at Tate.
The fact that she has spent the last ten years living and working in Manchester and not making her way round various institutions in London or other European capital cities will hopefully mean that she will recognize the importance of artistic spaces outside London. Her appointment could do good things for Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives.
Some have been dubious due to her lacking curatorial background, but with her background in arts education, her serious success in rebranding and relaunching Whitworth, and her place on Manchester’s city council make her far more qualified for a role directing a large institution such as Tate. After all the appointment of Tristram Hunt (a politician!) as Director of V&A, also made public this week, illustrates perfectly what is valued in these roles. Abilities in negotiation, communication, and an ability to come up with innovative ideas is what is really needed. Tate already has a large team of highly qualified curators, with enough expertise in that department.
I wander what this will mean for Manchester. I hope we will not lose out to London in losing Maria Balshaw, and that the roles she undertook will be separated, enabling someone to give Manchester Art Gallery the attention it needs.
Balshaw has done the groundwork for whoever takes over to lead an exciting new phase in Manchester’s art scene.