Nicholas Cullinan takes over as head of the British Museum

Director of the National Portrait Gallery since 2015, Nicholas Cullinan will take charge of the British Museum from next summer, as the museum is going through a particularly delicate period. An unsurprising appointment, which follows the resignation of previous director Hartwig Fischer last summer given the scandal caused by the theft of nearly 2,000 objects from the collections. Since September 2023, the museum has been managed on an interim basis by Mark Jones, the former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The American curator, aged 46, studied art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. He began his professional career at the National Portrait Gallery as a visitor services assistant between 2001 and 2003, and then worked for prestigious British, European and American museums such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Between 2007 and 2013, he was curator of modern art at the Tate Modern in London, where he curated exhibitions such as “Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia” (2008) and “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” ( 2014). He then joined MoMA in New York as curator of modern and contemporary art (from 2013 to 2015).

Since 2015 he has been director of the National Portrait Gallery. He then oversaw a major redevelopment of the institution, lasting three years and worth 41.3 million pounds sterling (48.3 million euros), which made it possible to increase the spaces museum audiences by around 20%. “He has demonstrated his ability as director of the National Portrait Gallery to oversee both a major physical renovation and a compelling renewal of purpose in a way that does not take sides, but brings people together and has been acclaimed universally » greeted George Osborne, president of the British Museum.

Skills that he will have to put to good use at the head of the British Museum. The 270-year-old institution was seriously shaken by the theft of nearly 2,000 jewels and precious stones, which revealed significant flaws in the management of its collections. The museum must strengthen its security and inventory measures for its collections – which include around eight million works – while facing increasing pressure to return objects of disputed provenance, the Parthenon marbles being the most known.

Nicholas Cullinan will be responsible for overseeing the ambitious plan to extend and renovate the museum building in Bloomsbury, a ten-year project estimated to cost £1 billion (€1.2 billion). He inherits the very controversial partnership that the British Museum signed with the oil company BP, with aid of 50 million pounds (58 million euros) spread over ten years. When he was head of the National Portrait Gallery, he ended the sponsorship agreement the institution had had with BP for thirty years.

Nicholas Cullinan said he was ready to bring in the museum “into a new chapter” which will encompass“significant transformations, both architectural and intellectual”. “I can’t imagine a better challenge, or a better opportunity to build on this, than to collectively reimagine the British Museum for the widest possible audience” he added.

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