Last updated: November 11, 2009 3:51 pm

Tate Britain director appointed

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Penelope Curtis, curator of the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, has been appointed the new director of Tate Britain.

Dr Curtis, 48, a specialist in sculpture and 20th-century British art, will succeed Stephen Deuchar, who has held the role for 11 years and is leaving to become director of the Art Fund. Dr Curtis will take up her appointment at Tate Britain next April.

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate galleries, said Dr Curtis had made an “outstanding contribution” to the understanding of British sculpture in the 20th century. “I am delighted that she will bring her scholarship and original vision to the presentation of British art at Tate Britain,” he said.

Dr Curtis has held her current position since 1999, during which time she has acquired significant works by Rodin and Jacob Epstein for the Henry Moore Institute, as well as building up a unique archive of sculptors’ papers.

Her new job is not without its difficulties: the profile of Tate Britain, which presents British art from 1500 to the present day, has suffered since the opening in 2000 of Tate Modern on the south bank of the Thames.

The newer gallery has attracted spectacular numbers of visitors, taking advantage of the burgeoning interest in contemporary art through projects such as the annual Turbine Hall installations.

But Tate Britain has begun to tap into that interest: and it now has its own annual installation, the Duveens Commission, in the gallery’s main hall, which has housed such widely discussed pieces as Mark Wallinger’s “State Britain” and Martin Creed’s “Work No. 850”.

Tate Britain also plays host to the annual Turner Prize exhibition, which continues to attract high numbers of visitors.

Dr Curtis’s challenge will be to stimulate similar interest in the gallery’s historic collection. It houses the largest collection in Britain of the work of J.M.W. Turner, who has inspired its current, highly acclaimed exhibition, “Turner and the Masters”.

Dr Curtis studied modern history at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, followed by a Master’s degree and PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Her publications include Sculpture 1900-1945 in the Oxford History of Art series and Patio and Pavilion: The Place of Sculpture in Modern Architecture. She was on the British Council Committee for the Venice Biennale in 2008 and a member of the Turner Prize jury in 1997.

She is on the advisory committee for the Government Art Collection and is a member of the art commissions committee for the Imperial War Museum.

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