Sir Nicholas Serota (born 1946) is a curator, and is currently Director of the Tate Gallery, the United Kingdom's national gallery of modern and British art.
The son of a Labour health minister, Serota grew up in North London and attended the Haberdashers' Aske's School. He then studied Economics at the University of Cambridge (Christ's), before switching to History of Art. He completed a Masters degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art under the supervision of Michael Kitson and Anita Brookner; his thesis was on the work of J. M. W. Turner.
In 1970, he joined the Arts Council of Great Britain's Visual Arts Department as a regional exhibitions officer, and in 1973 he was made Director of the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford. There he organised an important early exhibition of work by Joseph Beuys.
In 1976 Serota was appointed Director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London's East End. The Whitechapel was well regarded but had suffered from lack of resources. Serota assembled at the Whitechapel a talented staff including Jenni Lomax (later Director of the Camden Arts Centre) , and organised influential exhibitions of Carl Andre, Philip Guston, Anselm Kiefer and Gerhard Richter as well as early exhibitions of then emerging artists such as Antony Gormley.
In 1980, assisted by Sandy Nairne (whom he has worked with in Oxford) he organised a two-part exhibition of 20th Century British Sculpture, on a scale which had not been seen in the UK before. In 1981 he curated 'The New Spirit in Painting',with Norman Rosenthal and Christos Joachimides for the Royal Academy. In 1984-5 Serota took the bold step of shutting down the Whitechapel for over 12 months for extensive refurbishment. The success of this was instrumental in Serota's appointment in 1988 as Director of the Tate Gallery, beating amongst others Norman Rosenthal for the post.
Tate Gallery Directorship
The Tate Gallery that Serota took over was in a perilous state. The UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had declared a policy that the arts would be subject to market forces. Although the Tate Gallery received a government grant, it was not enough to provide for major purchases, especially at a time when the art market was inflated, as it was in the late 1980s. Moreover, the Tate Gallery was in need of expansion, as the existing exhibition space could show only 10% of the collection. The opening of the Clore Wing (1987) and of affiliate galleries Tate Liverpool (1988) and Tate St Ives (1993) helped to alleviate the problem.
In 1990 Serota inaugurated a programme called 'New Displays' in which the central Duveen Galleries were restored and collection works were rotated. A more ambitious programme of special exhibitions was started and the Turner Prize was redefined as a showcase for emerging contemporary art (Serota as Director has a permanent place on the judging panel for the prize).
Major expansion of the Tate Gallery had been seen as inevitable for two decades. In 1994 the creation of the National Lottery made it possible to anticipate the availability of major funding for an enlarged Gallery. In 1995 Tate received £50 Million towards the conversion of the former Bankside Power Station to create Tate Modern. The final cost was £135 million; Serota managed to secure the funds to make up the shortfall from a range of private sources. Tate Modern opened in May 2000 and quickly became a sightseeing fixture of London. As well as housing acclaimed new works by Louise Bourgeois and Anish Kapoor, the Gallery has also provided the base for successful exhibitions of Picasso/Matisse and Edward Hopper.
In 1998, under his directorship, Tate was involved in the secret buyback of two paintings from its Collection by J. M. W. Turner that had been stolen from a German gallery in 1994. The paintings were recovered in 2000 and 2002, resulting in a profit of several million pounds for Tate. See Frankfurt art theft (1994).
In other areas Serota's decisions remain controversial. Charles Saatchi has publically stated that an offer of a major gift of works was rejected by Serota - while Serota responded that no such offer had ever been made. A campaign was launched by Serota in 2004 to create a £100m endowment fund to support future purchases and encourage artists and collectors to gift works to the Tate in order to fill gaps in the collection. However, in October 2005 it was disclosed that the Tate had purchased a series of works known as The Upper Room (1998-2002) by Chris Ofili despite the artist being a serving trustee and already well represented in the collection. Defenders of this purchase have claimed that it was done at a significant discount, and Ofili was not involved in the trustees' discussions.
Serota's first wife was dancer Angela Beveridge. They married in 1973 and had two daughters. He has two step-daughters by his marriage to Teresa Gleadowe in 1997,