Plans to appoint a new director for the Baltic centre for contemporary arts in Gateshead have been thrown into confusion after the chosen candidate turned down the post, according to reports.
Interviews took place earlier this month and trustees are understood to have chosen an American curator, Peter Doroshenko, to take over the centre.
But he is said to have decided yesterday against moving from Belgium, where he stepped down as artistic director of the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (SMAK), for family reasons.
The gallery's staff and supporters had been eager to put the upsets of recent years behind them.
The first director, Sune Nordgren, left less than a year after the gallery opened in July 2002 to run Norway's National Museum for Art, Architecture and Design. He was criticised by some for concentrating on Scandinavian artists while more popular exhibitions, such as Antony Gormley's Domain Field, were expensive.
Stephen Snoddy, his successor, resigned in November last year, 11 months after his appointment. He had previously been suspended from his post at the Baltic while the Metropolitan Police investigated an allegation of assault made against him. The police eventually announced no action was being taken. Although he was expected to resume work, he decided not to return.
Mr Doroshenko's appointment was expected to have been confirmed at a board meeting within days. It is understood he and his wife were flown to the city for the weekend.
However, Andrew Lovett, Baltic's acting director, refused to confirm any details of the recruitment process. "Obviously with a post of this importance and seniority and the fact we're very keen to get someone of the absolute highest quality, the processes are going to be complicated and probably take a long time. We hope to make an announcement as soon as we possibly can."
Mr Doroshenko ran SMAK in Ghent from 2003 until earlier this year. He was formerly director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Institute of Visual Arts. He has been described as a brilliant curator rather than an administrator, but he would need to be both at Baltic.
The centre is one of the regeneration projects in Gateshead and was joined last year by the Sage music centre just several hundred metres along the river.
Despite some question marks over its finances, the Arts Council of England gave it a vote of confidence this year when it announced a big increase in its funding over the next three years. The Baltic's subsidy will rise from £815,225 this financial year to £1.8m by 2007/08.
Mr Doroshenko could not be contacted yesterday.