Right of reply: Robin Gibson, curator of 'The Portrait Now', bites back

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'As usual, the National Portrait Gallery cannot decide whether to select portraits for artistic merit or documentary value . . .' James Hall, Guardian

'The evidence of this selection is that so many of those artists who achieved international fame and fortune in this late period are simply not very good . . .' William Packer, Financial Times

'For a show billed as 'the first ever international survey of contemporary portrait work', it is dire . . . This is because paint has been superseded by film . . .' John McEwen, Sunday Telegraph


THE suggestion that the works are simply not very good is far too generalised. I'm realistic enough not to expect a great portraitist to appear every year, they're pretty thin on the ground.

I think Bill Packer actually likes the traditional notion of the portrait with a bit of curtain or a bookcase in the background, which is what I'm trying to expand from. But I've always known I was bound to fall between the current orthodoxy of contemporary art and the traditional, social notion of the portrait.

The rudest review is by John McEwen, who says paint has been succeeded by film, which is something I agree with. I do do shows of photography fairly regularly, but the art critics don't appear because it's not art.

I don't think there's a work in that exhibition that is not of interest in its own right. The thing that is predictable but sad is the cultural xenophobia of most British art critics. They write appreciatively of the School of London but there's really no attempt to come to terms with anyone else's approach.

I still think that as a show of contemporary art it's enjoyable. It's about people; in a way it's about an awful lot of things that contemporary art isn't'

'Portrait Now', The National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2

(Photograph omitted)