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  • Feb 02, 2012

Anne Flanagan appointed acting director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales

Portrait of Anne Flanagan, acting director of the AGNSW. Courtesy AGNSW, Sydney.

Anne Flanagan, deputy director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) since 2010, has been appointed acting director of the gallery after an international search failed to find a replacement for the AGNSW’s former director, the ebullient Edmund Capon, who retired in December after 33 years at the gallery’s helm.

Applications for the position closed in early November without producing any standout candidates, although rumors persist in the Sydney press that negotiations with Dr. Timothy Potts, current director of the UK’s Fitzwilliam Museum, stalled in December. Stephen Lowy, president of the AGNSW board of trustees, said in a statement released by the gallery, “The Trustees had placed no deadline on making a new appointment . . . Edmund built up a team of committed and highly professional staff during his tenure, and under Anne’s leadership the gallery will be in safe hands.” 

While the AGNSW’s search for a new director seems to have stalled, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne has accelerated its efforts. The NGV has been searching for a new head following the preemptory announcement last September by incumbent Dr. Gerard Vaughan that he would leave after serving only three years of his five-year term. 

An NGV insider told ArtAsiaPacific that an announcement on Vaughan’s successor was “imminent.” Originally reported to be leaving in July this year, the NGV now says that Vaughan will go in May, clearing the slate for his replacement. The Premier of Victoria also needs to appoint a new president of the gallery’s Council of Trustees, a the current president, Allan Myers, has decided to leave after serving his third three-year terms. 

Both Melbourne and Sydney see themselves as “Australia’s cultural capital.” With the NGV poised to make an announcement, the art world may well conclude that the southerners have beaten the AGNSW to the post, in a market where good, qualified—and available—candidates are few and far between.

Meanwhile, business at AGNSW continues uninterrupted, with the announcement today, February 2, of a three-year partnership between the gallery and the luxury Italian brand Bulgari, which will award AUD 80,000 annually to a mid-career Australian artist. The Bulgari Art Award will consist of a $50,000 painting acquisition and an artist residency in Italy, valued at AUD 30,000—making it one of the most valuable art awards in Australia. 

Despite this positive development, several key members of Capon’s AGNSW team have in recent months either resigned or said they are re-considering their future at the gallery. The incoming director, however, remains positive, saying this will allow the institution to refresh itself.

Flanagan, who joined the gallery in 1992 and recently oversaw the development of the institutions basement floor into the John Kaldor Family Gallery, to showcase the Kaldor collection,  was upbeat about the future and her temporary role as acting director when talking to AAP. “The gallery is in phenomenal shape, with plans this year for a major Francis Bacon show and to integrate the gallery’s contemporary collection into the new basement space. There will also be an important re-hang of the Australian collection,” she said.

John McDonald, one of Sydney’s most outspoken arts writers, weighed in on the debate earlier this year over the lack of an announcement by imploring the AGNSW not to rush into a decision, but to wait until the right candidate came along. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, he said, “Appoint the wrong director and it can be a costly, embarrassing exercise to correct the mistake. If there is even the slightest doubt… the AGNSW should not be rushing to fill the post.”

It is advice that Stephen Lowy and the trustees seem to have taken to heart; however the Sydney media have reported that Lowy nevertheless expects a new director to be in place before the end of the year.

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