British Museum Director Neil MacGregor To Step Down at the End of the Year

What's the problem with London's leading art institutions?

Neil MacGregor Courtesy: The British Museum
Neil MacGregor Courtesy: The British Museum

Neil MacGregor announced this morning that he will step down from his post as director of the British Museum at the end of 2015.

“It’s a very difficult thing to leave the British Museum,” MacGregor said in a statement, adding that the post had been “the greatest privilege of [his] professional life.” Nevertheless, the long-standing director will retire from full-time employment in late December.

During his 13-year tenure, MacGregor successfully led the iconic London institution into the 21st century, staging scholarly yet highly popular shows, and overseeing the refurbishment and expansion of its galleries. The museum’s World Conservation and Exhibitions center is now open and the museum has recently announced plans for the Old Reading Room and new Islamic galleries.

MacGregor has also been vocal on matters of international cultural diplomacy. The British Museum’s most recent show, for example, was interpreted by artnet News contributor Edward Lucie-Smith as an argument for keeping the Elgin Marbles in the UK (see The British Museum’s Defining Beauty Show Argues For the Elgin Marbles to Stay in Britain).

In his statement, MacGregor made it clear that he won’t stop working after retiring from his prestigious post. “Although I shall no longer be working full-time I shall be involved in a number of projects,” he said.

These will include a Radio 4 series on faith and society as well as advisory positions further afield: MacGregor will work on the presentation of world cultures with Mumbai’s CSMVS museum, and join the advisory board of Berlin’s Humboldt-Forum.

He said: “I shall be chairing an Advisory Board to make recommendations to the German Minister of Culture, Monika Grütters, on how the Humboldt-Forum, drawing on the outstanding resources of the Berlin collections, can become a place where different narratives of world cultures can be explored and debated.”

Indeed, Berlin seems to be in dire need of help in regards to its controversial mammoth project (See Berlin at a Loss for Ideas for its €595 Million Humboldt Forum).

MacGregor is not the only high-profile name in London museums to have announced a change of position recently, or, for that matter, to look towards opportunities in the German capital.

Sandy Nairne left his position as director of the National Portrait Gallery at the end of 2014 and was replaced by star curator Nicholas Cullinan (see Director of National Portrait Gallery Steps Down and National Portrait Gallery Appoints Nicholas Cullinan as Director).

Last month, Prado Museum’s Gabriele Finaldi was appointed as the new director of the National Gallery, following Nicholas Penny’s resignation (see Nicholas Penny Steps Down from London’s National Gallery and Museo del Prado’s Gabriele Finaldi Appointed Director of London’s National Gallery Amid Staff Crisis).

Only a week ago, Penelope Curtis announced that she was leaving Tate Britian to become the new director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon (see Penelope Curtis Leaves Tate Britain for Calouste Gulbenkian Museum after Highly Criticized 5-Year Tenure).

Meanwhile, a rumor claiming that Chris Dercon had been tapped by Berlin’s Tim Renner to head the city’s avant-garde Volksbühne theater sparked a polemic in the German press (see Is Chris Dercon Leaving Tate Modern To Head a Theater in Berlin?)


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