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  • Feb 14, 2012

Michael Brand appointed AGNSW Director

Michael Brand, new director of Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). Photo courtesy AGNSW.

In the race to be the first to announce a new director, Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) has beaten Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) to the post by announcing their appointment of 54-year-old, Canberra-born Michael Brand—consulting director of the Aga Khan Museum currently under construction in Toronto and former director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

In a surprise announcement made by e-mail in the early hours of Friday, February 10, Steven Lowy, president of the AGNSW board of trustees, said he was “delighted the Gallery had been able to recruit such an outstanding director, whose scholarship and reputation was well recognized globally.”

There was no press conference; Brand remained in Geneva to answer questions selectively by telephone, although he had not responded to e-mail queries from ArtAsiaPacific at the time of writing.

What a difference a day makes—or in this case ten: just ten days ago Lowy announced that the AGNSW’s search for a director to fill the shoes of recently-retired Edmund Capon might go on until the end of the year, and that deputy director Anne Flanagan had been appointed acting director in the interim. Trustees had placed “no deadline” on making the new appointment, Lowy had said—an indication the recruitment process had stalled.

In the high-stakes game of recruiting gallery directors, suddenly everything had changed. Odds had been shortening in recent days on Brand being the favorite for the NGV position, which is to be vacated by Gerard Vaughan by mid-year. Only last week the NGV said that an announcement of Vaughan’s replacement was imminent, “within a day or two.”

If Brand was the leading candidate to take up the position in Melbourne, the NGV must now be in damage control.  The gallery is certainly back-tracking from its earlier statement that a replacement for Vaughan was imminent and now says “no date has yet been fixed” for its announcement.

Meanwhile, according to figures confirmed by Lowy, Brand’s salary at the AGNSW will be AUD 445,000—a massive hike on Capon’s annual stipend of $241,250.

Brand would not comment when the Sydney Morning Herald asked if he had been enticed from Melbourne by the AGNSW offer. He said, “I make a point of not discussing other searches. But obviously when there are two art museum positions available at the same time, it’s of huge interest and intrigued everyone.”

Whether or not Lowy did pluck Brand from Melbourne’s clutches by the largess of the salary package remains unknown. However, the general consensus among those approached by AAP concerning the appointment was unanimous praise of Brand and support for his record; a record only slightly tarnished by clashes with the Getty management structure that forced him to leave that institution one year before the end of his five-year contract, in 2010.

Doug Hall, former director of the Queensland Art Gallery (QAG), under whom Brand served from 1996 to 2000 as assistant director, said Brand is “exceptional, a scholar who knows art history, loves contemporary art and artists.” Capon commented to AAP, “I am really delighted about the appointment . . . he was the first person I contacted many months ago . . . really very pleased.”

Speculation remains as to who will get the plum job in Melbourne, with Tony Ellwood’s name continuing to surface even though he has just signed a new five-year contract at QAG, where he is its current director. Ellwood declined to speak to AAP.

Brand, whose expertise, like Capon’s, is in Asian art, will be the ninth director in the AGNSW’s 120-year history. He plans to move to Sydney to take up his new position midway through this year.

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