Rosenthal speaks out after exit from Royal Academy
Monday 25 February 2008
Nicknamed "Stormin' Norman", the Royal Academy's exhibitions secretary was renowned for a volcanic temper that erupted in the faces of journalists, artists and fellow curators alike. So when Sir Norman Rosenthal quit his post last month after more than three decades, it came as a surprise to many that he went quietly.
Now, the notoriously temperamental Sir Norman, whose eclectic taste has had an unparalleled influence on contemporary British art, has broken his silence over his departure, claiming that he was encouraged to quit by colleagues within Burlington House.
Admitting that he would have stayed in the high-profile job for years had he not been made to feel unwelcome, Sir Norman said: "In the autumn, I was certainly pushed into resigning.
"If I had been asked to, I would quite happily have gone on working here for another 10 years, doing what I do, which is continually renewing the RA and making it livelier. I made it very clear to people here, but they didn't seem to want it. If you don't feel welcome, you don't want to stay."
In an interview with The Art Newspaper, Sir Norman, 63, explained that he had eventually left because of "a handful" of former colleagues whom he refused to identify.
Asked why his departure came so soon after the arrival as secretary and chief executive of Charles Saumarez Smith, the former director of the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, Sir Norman claimed Dr Saumarez Smith did little to make him feel he should continue in the post.
"Charles did what the membership wanted him to do," Sir Norman said. "It can't be said that he encouraged me to stay. I didn't get the vibes that he was very keen that I should carry on. I didn't feel that he thought I was such a valuable asset that he would say 'Please Norman, stay'."
But the curator who brought to London a string of landmark exhibitions including Sensation, the controversial 1997 collection which showcased Charles Saatchi-owned works by Young British Artists, reserved his most scathing remarks for other individuals. Asked which of the RA's presidents he most enjoyed working with he mentioned Sir Hugh Casson and Sir Roger De Grey, whose tenures finished in 1984 and 1993 respectively.
Asked about the three most recent, Sir Philip Dowson, Professor Philip King and the incumbent, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, Sir Norman said: "They meant well, but they don't have the same insight into what a cultural organisation could or can be."
And, accusing the Royal Academy of becoming "more bureaucratic", Sir Norman said tensions within the organisation had been growing for some time.
"Academicians [the 80 British artists who comprise the Royal Academy's leading members] are trying to assert themselves more now, and they found this, at times, unhealthy. Maybe it is unhealthy for me and for them," he admitted.
The Royal Academy was unavailable for comment.
'Sometimes I'm not enough of a bully'
* On his resignation:
"I was certainly pushed into resigning. If I had been asked to, I would have quite happily gone on working here for another 10 years. I made that very clear to people here, but they didn't seem to want it. If you don't feel welcome, you don't stay".
* On Charles Saumarez Smith:
"Charles did what the membership wanted him to do. It can't be said that he encouraged me to stay. I didn't feel that he thought I was such a valuable asset that he would say 'Please Norman, stay'".
* On his reputation as a bully:
"Once you have decided what you want, you have to go at it with a certain determination... Sometimes I think I am not enough of a bully. I have to be too nice. One is required to be 'nice' in this current world of political correctness."
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