Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of London’s Tate Gallery, says that: “Today art must know how to entertain.”
Nicholas Serota, as director of the Tate Modern Gallery, you wanted to hold a retrospective of German artist Gerhard Richter’s work. This is an artist you have known and appreciated since you were the director of the Whitechapel Gallery more than twenty years ago.
The value of his work is undeniable, and it has been for forty years now. Most of his works have to do with the history of Germany, but he’s a man who is extremely sensitive to all of the big tragedies. For example, with his piece “September” he was one of the first to take on what happened at the Twin Towers. The extraordinary thing is that he continues to create work of exceptional quality. We tried not just to hold a retrospective, but to look at his current work as well.
These are times of crisis. How is the Tate Gallery affected by the crisis?
We have lost fifteen per cent of government subsidies in the last four years, but with inflation, this reduction is even greater.
So are you looking for other sources of financing?
That is the only thing we can do, even though it is difficult in this economic climate. And we don’t only have large exhibitions on the scale of the Richter show, but we also need to hold exhibitions that will appeal to a smaller, different audience. It is not easy to find a balance.
Has the crisis affected the number of visitors as well?
No, there is no crisis in terms of the number of visitors, also because entrance to the museum is free – though one must pay for a ticket to exhibitions. The majority of our visitors – sixty to seventy per cent – are British.
What exhibitions do you have planned for the future?
A retrospective of Alighiero Boetti curated by Mark Godfrey, who has just written a book on the artist. Yayoi Kusama, Damien Hirst and Edvard Munch will be the focus of exhibitions at a later time.
Do you work with other museums?
Yes, especially with the National Gallery of Berlin, the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art in Madrid, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney in New York, and the Beaubourg in Paris. For example, the Kusama show that we have planned was put on in Madrid and Paris before coming to London.
Is the public more interested in contemporary art shows or exhibitions of works by more traditional artists?
Of course there will be more visitors for Munch than for Richter, but the difference is not that great. The interest in contemporary art is growing and fairs like those held in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong are definitely helping this.
Are there big changes taking place in contemporary art?
Tastes are changing all over the world, especially here in England and in other parts of Europe. Things are also changing in terms of the artist. I think there are artists who are as great as those in the past. But the work is more spread out and the message no longer comes from small groups or single cities. There are no fashionable trends, and movements like Transavanguardia or Arte Povera in Italy end up not lasting very long.
Has the audience changed as well?
Today the public is more demanding. The public expects intelligence as well as entertainment, participation and a show all at the same time. One solution could be to offer shows of an interdisciplinary nature that mix dance, painting, sculpture, visual arts and so forth. This is how it was in the nineteen-twenties in the Twentieth Century, in the nineteen-sixties, and it is once again this way today.
Are there many more collectors today?
There are many, but there are only about ten in all of Europe that work in a truly interesting way. After all, there are thousands of writers, poets, and painters, but there are relatively few truly good ones.
What is your personal “formula?”
I think it is important, first and foremost, to treat the audience and the artists with respect. I like to create a sort of forum, a platform that the artists can use to show their works. And at the same time, I like to reinterpret the artists’ lives in a new way, making them stimulating and interesting for an ever more sophisticated audience.
So the Tate Gallery must change?
In 2012, we will inaugurate a new wing and another gallery – the Tate Britain dedicated to modern art will be renovated. And then we will try to expand with the Plus Tate program, which aims to foster partnerships and allow for the lending of Tate works to other museums in the United Kingdom. But we will not franchise our brand.
After twenty-three years as the director of the Tate Gallery, how would you sum things up?
It has been a great period. London is an extraordinary city, and the audience continues to grow. The permanent collection is truly impressive. Today, prices are very high and our resources are limited, but we are fortunate to receive donations of important pieces. We’ve grown this way as well. While we were in the top ten in the world before, now we are in the top five.
So you must be quite satisfied?
No, but only because there are still many shows I would like to do and new things I would like to add. The Internet has now become an important resource for us. With the Tate Online site www.tate.org.uk we are able to reach other kinds of audiences, and this next spring we will improve the site.
London, 30th October, 2011