Tim Marlow, artistic director of the Royal Academy of Arts, has been named as chief executive and director of the Design Museum, taking him from one of Britain’s oldest arts institutions to the leading role at one of its youngest.
A curator and broadcaster, Mr Marlow moved to the RA in 2014 after establishing his gallery credentials as director of exhibitions at White Cube, the contemporary art gallery. He became the RA’s artistic director a year later, overseeing shows at the institution’s Burlington House home on London’s Piccadilly with big-name artists including David Hockney, Ai Weiwei and, most recently, Antony Gormley.
Mr Marlow was a central figure in preparations for events accompanying last year’s 250th anniversary celebrations at the RA, coinciding with the completion of a major building project to expand the institution’s exhibition spaces and link its two historic buildings. Last year’s Summer Exhibition co-ordinated by ceramicist Grayson Perry broke attendance records for the world’s oldest open submission show, in which anyone may offer artwork for consideration.
The chief executive and director role is a new creation at the Design Museum, where co-directors Deyan Sudjic and Alice Black worked together for the past 12 years. They will step down in January 2020, having masterminded the museum’s move from its Shad Thames home — where it was founded by Sir Terence Conran in 1989 — to new premises in the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington in 2016.
Mr Marlow’s departure completes a changing of the guard at the RA, which last year saw the departure of chief executive Charles Saumarez Smith and in December will see Christopher Le Brun, RA president, step down. Mr Marlow had been an internal candidate for the role of RA chief executive following the departure of Sir Charles. The job went to Alex Ruger, former director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, who took over in April.
Mr Marlow said he was excited to be leading the Design Museum into the next phase of “its relatively brief but already illustrious history” and to build on its work in “promoting the central importance of design and architecture in shaping our world”.
As chief executive, Mr Marlow will take greater responsibility for the financial health of the Design Museum than in his primarily artistic role at the RA. In a climate of straitened arts funding, both institutions are heavily reliant on generating income through ticket sales for temporary exhibitions, corporate sponsorship and private donations.
Asked about the priorities facing the museum under its new head, Peter Mandelson, chair of the Design Museum and a former EU trade commissioner, said the institution had to play its part in helping the public and politicians understand the “new industrial age” being driven by advances in digital technology and artificial intelligence.
“British designs have driven industrial revolutions in the past and we have to do this again irrespective of Brexit,” said Lord Mandelson. “We need a new spirit of British design and the government needs to understand this and invest in it, starting with the education system. I want the Design Museum to play its part in spearheading it.”
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