Charles Saumarez Smith is to step down after 11 years at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and move to a new role at a commercial gallery, Blain|Southern.
Sir Charles, 64, is currently Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy. The news is a surprise: he was knighted in June for services to the arts. He supervised the renovation of the RA Keeper’s House in 2013 and the large-scale redevelopment by David Chipperfield of Burlington Gardens for the RA’s 250th anniversary this year.
“The RA is a very distinctive place and I have enjoyed working closely with the staff, artists and the two presidents, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw and Christopher Le Brun,” Sir Charles said in a statement issued by the RA. “There is never a good time to announce one’s departure, but I wanted to leave at a time of obvious strength and success.” He was previously Director of the National Gallery, from 2002 to 2007; and of the National Portrait Gallery, from 1994 to 2002.
In a joint statement appointing him as Senior Director, Harry Blain and Graham Southern said: “Having headed up three of the most prominent art institutions in the UK, if not the world, Charles brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that will benefit our artists, the gallery program and external exhibitions worldwide.” Sir Charles said: “I have known Harry Blain and Graham Southern ever since they took the lease on Burlington Gardens for Haunch of Venison. I greatly respect their work and that of the artists they represent, several of whom are RAs. I am very much looking forward to working with them all, using my experience to build upon Blain|Southern’s achievements.”
During his period at the RA, the largely artist-run institution has staged major shows by Anish Kapoor, Anselm Kiefer and Ai Weiwei. “From Russia” required a change in legislation in the House of Lords to protect pictures from seizure while “David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture” broke attendance records. More recent shows included “Abstract Expressionism” and “Charles I: King and Collector.”
Le Brun said: “Charles has a natural sympathy for the painters, sculptors, printmakers and architects that make up the membership of the Royal Academy, and possesses the unique ability to move with equal authority in the worlds of art, design, scholarship, exhibitions, administration and fundraising.” Sir Charles will leave the RA at the end of the year. Recruitment for his replacement will begin in September.
A growing number of public directors have moved into the private sector after distinguished and recognized service. Dame Julia Peyton Jones said she was leaving Serpentine Galleries in 2015 and two years ago joined Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (she also became a mother at the age of 65.)
Sir Charles gained a double first from King’s College, Cambridge. He then moved to Harvard and the Warburg Institute as a postgraduate student. He is also a Professor of Cultural History at Queen Mary, University of London.
Blain|Southern Blain, founded in 2010, has two gallery spaces in London and Berlin. Forthcoming exhibitions include Sean Scully during Frieze Week and Ali Banisadr’s first solo exhibition in Germany during Berlin Art Week.
Founder Louise Blouin