National Portrait Gallery Appoints Nicholas Cullinan as Director

He's the second youngest director in the museum's history.

Nicholas CullinanPhoto: Jackie Neale Chadwick via: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Nicholas Cullinan, director of London's National Portrait Gallery.
Photo: Jackie Neale Chadwick via: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Star curator Nicholas Cullinan has been announced as the new director of London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG).

The appointment comes as an almost fairy-tale culmination of Cullinan’s long-standing relationship with the renowned London museum, where he worked as a part-time front-of-house assistant 14 years ago.

The 37-year-old Cullinan—who was born in Connecticut but grew up in Yorkshire, England—is returning to the UK after a two-year stint at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he served as curator of modern and contemporary art. Recently, he received much media attention as the co-curator of the blockbuster exhibition “Henri Matisse: Cutouts,” which attracted over half a million visitors at Tate Modern last year.

Before his American chapter, Cullinan was curator of international modern art at Tate Modern, a position he held for six years and during which he curated exhibitions such as “Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons” (2008) and “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye” (2012).

Cullinan will take up the position in the spring, becoming the National Portrait Gallery’s 12th director in its 158-year history. But despite his rapid rise, Cullinan won’t hold the record of the museum’s youngest director. According to the Guardian, Roy Strong was only 32 when he was appointed in 1967.

Cullinan is currently developing the program for the Fondazione Prada’s new venue in Milan, slated to open in May 2015. He also contributes regularly to publications such as Artforum, the Burlington Magazine, Frieze, October, and Parkett.

“He is an outstanding curator and art historian, and has wide-ranging international experience,” Sir William Proby, chair of trustees at the NPG, said of Cullinan. “We believe his flair and enthusiasm will allow us to build on the excellent work Sandy Nairne has done over the past 12 years.”


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