Sir Nicholas joined us following the end of his time as the Director of Tate Galleries, and the start of his new position as Chair of the Arts Council England. During his talk, Sir Nicholas looked back on the two and a half decades he spent at Tate, which included the founding of Tate Modern, which was initially “built on a site that no one else wanted”. He described how the architects had the vision to see that the now famous Turbine Hall should remain as it was, and now it is a space that is being recreated in galleries across the globe. Sir Nicholas said that there were works of art that got away, and he regrets not buying more during his time there.
When asked about what lies ahead for the Arts Council, Sir Nicholas said inclusivity and accessibility were some of the strongest themes. He said that the art world generally is “rather London centric”, and that Arts Council will see more funding available outside of London, and would be aiming to bring in more young people and “people who have not engaged with art before”.
When asked about interpretation in galleries, Sir Nicholas said that there are plenty of curators and artists who are appalled by the idea of giving any sort of explanation for the art works. He said that one of the biggest changes he encouraged in Tate was hanging works by eye, to find the balance in the works, rather than by tape measure.
An audience member asked about what Sir Nicholas’ advice would be to an artist starting out today; he said that he had never met an artist who had regretted being able to draw, and that you must “make art for yourself” first and foremost. He said that although generally art is made by an individual, it is “very much a social activity”, and one of the benefits of being trained as an artist is that you are able to cope with change.
When asked whether he thought his taste had influenced the state of the nation, Sir Nicholas responded that the works at Tate don’t necessarily reflect his personal tate, and he enjoys many different types of art. He said that ultimately “if you present art well, show it well, and do it consistently, people will respond”.