HIGH-ACHIEVING Scots from the worlds of sport, food, fashion and music top the wish-list for inclusion at the revamped Scottish National Portrait Gallery, its newly appointed director said yesterday.
Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions will be high on the “immediate agenda”, said Christopher Baker after he was named as the new holder of one of the most coveted jobs on the Scottish arts scene.
Around 30 people, many of them from overseas art institutions, applied for the £80,000- a-year post of director at the Edinburgh portrait gallery, which reopened last year after a £17 million overhaul.
But the National Galleries of Scotland opted for one of their own. Mr Baker is currently deputy director of the portrait gallery’s sister institution, the Scottish National Gallery on The Mound in Edinburgh, where he has worked for about a decade.
Mr Baker helped curate major shows in Edinburgh, including The Discovery of Spain, and Turner and the Art of Italy, in 2009. But while his current post will be filled, it is thought the internal appointment will also save the galleries money.
The portrait gallery’s rich collection of photography, dating back to celebrated Scottish pioneers of the 19th century, will be a “key strand” for future exhibitions in its new dedicated photography gallery, with “national and international collaborations”.
But for new portrait commissions, Mr Baker said high-achieving Scots were among his priorities. “We should be looking at high-achieving Scots who have a reputation not only across the country but beyond, in the realms of fashion, perhaps food, areas such as classical music, opera, ballet.
“These are areas of incredible achievement in terms of Scottish companies and individuals. I would certainly like to see those reflected. For the immediate agenda – sporting achievement, Olympic and Commonwealth achievement – I would certainly like to see those.”
Mr Baker declined to name names yesterday, but generally funds for buying major new works are tight.
A specialist in prints and drawings, rather than portraiture or Scottish art, Mr Baker is nonetheless seen as a safe pair of hands who knows Scotland and its national galleries well.Trained in art and museum studies at the universities of York and Manchester, he was a researcher at the National Gallery in London and curator at the Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford before coming to the Scottish National Gallery in 2003 as senior curator of its prints and drawings.
Within a year, he was named deputy director in a rapid promotion. Also an academic, and currently a visiting fellow at the prestigious Yale Centre for British Art in the US, he is described as likeable and modest but clearly ambitious. Originally from London, Mr Baker said he had come to appreciate the “incredible richness” of Scottish art and history.
The National Galleries’ director-general John Leighton said: “Christopher Baker has an extremely impressive record.”
Mr Baker said he wanted to build on the “phenomenal success” of the £17.6m overhaul of the gallery, founded by The Scotsman proprietor John Ritchie Findlay in 1889. The revamp saw gallery spaces increase by 60 per cent, while about 200,000 people have been through its doors since last year’s reopening.
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