Baltic art gallery chief quits post for job in Norway

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The Independent Online

The Scandinavian director of an iconic art gallery that was supposed to do for Gateshead what the Guggenheim has done for Bilbao has quit his post to go to Norway.

Sune Nordgren has stepped down after six years in charge of Baltic, a former flour mill that was converted into a gallery for contemporary art at a cost of £46m, £33m of it from the National Lottery.

Reports earlier in the year suggested the gallery was having financial difficulties and that the Swedish-born director did not care about the number of visitors coming to see its exhibits.

But the gallery said yesterday that it was on a stable footing after the appointment of a new finance executive in April and that Mr Nordgren's decision to move on had not been related to difficulties at Baltic.

Mr Nordgren will work part-time at the gallery until October before moving to a new post as the founding director of the National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo at the end of the year.

In a statement issued yesterday, he said: "I will be very sad to leave Baltic and the people of Gateshead and the North-east region, who have so magnificently supported this project. I am immensely proud of the way that the people of this region have taken Baltic to their hearts."

He cited Domain Field, a work the Baltic commissioned from Antony Gormley, as a piece of which he was particularly fond. It involved the sculptor making individual casts of 200 local people and is thought to have cost about £500,000.

The gallery has also presented work by Anish Kapoor, whose pre-opening installation cost about £300,000 but was seen by only 14,000 people.

A report on the gallery found that visitors - who were able to enjoy spectacular views of the North-east from the gallery's top floor - spent, on average, only 37p each.

But Mr Nordgren told the arts magazine Blueprint he was not concerned with such matters. "I'm not interested in attendance figures. It's more the politicians and the Arts Council who are interested in those sorts of things. We will never try to popularise what we are doing. On the contrary, actually. We want to make things more complicated."

Last April, Baltic appointed Andrew Lovett director of finance and resources, and the gallery said yesterday its economic fortunes had improved.

Richard Deacon, vice-chairman of Baltic Contemporary Visual Arts Trust, said Mr Nordgren had been an "exceptional" founding director and would be "a hard act to follow". Christian Bjelland, chairman of the Oslo museum, said that Norway had captured a director who was "a great visionary as well as a clear and dynamic leader".