So Sir Nicholas Serota is, finally, gone and the new boss of the UK arts institutional scene is Mary Balshaw who has been the co-director of the Whitworth and Manchester City Galleries till now and has just been confirmed in her appointment as Director of Tate by PM Theresa May. But how did a Birmingham woman with a working class background who is not an expert in visual arts do it in the classist and Courtauld-bound London arts scene. The answer might be Tom Bloxham MBE.
Bloxham is a trustee at Tate and has succeeded at getting rid of Franck Petitgas from Morgan Stanley. He is a very strong figure in Manchester and more specifically Manchester United. As a Chairman of the Manchester International Festival he placed himself as one of the strongest people in the country’s cultural scene and from there he championed a group of people amongst whom we find Mary Balshaw. I had the opportunity to meet him when he was trying to (sexually) woo my friend Vanessa Arelle, then cultural attache of the Mexican Embassy in London and all I can say is that the guy is persistent and his methods are borderline gangsterish. My friend had to literally run away from him one night in Manchester.
The other things that I find interesting about this appointment is that in times of Donald Trump in the US, the Tate appoints as Director a Doctor in Philosophy in African American Studies. As a matter of fact, her background is not visual culture but literature and cultural studies. In a way, Balshaw’s apotheosis means that Museum bureaucracy and more specifically, those bureaucratic structures linked to developing partnerships with schools are determined to reinforce the politically correct post-Obama official discourse. Art institutions have illogically got larger and larger during the past twenty years and the result is the type of cultural political correctness that Balshaw embodies.
Of course her appointment was cheered loudly int eh arts world after overseeing the £15 million redevolpment of Whitworth gallery and credited with persuading George Osborne to invest £78 million in the New Factory art s hub on the site of the old Granada Studios. Having said this, a positive aspect in this appointment is that she is not a curator. Another positive thing is that she is a close friend of Jeanette Winterson who said: ‘She is high art but she’s democratic. There is no dumbing down, there’s no apologie but she is algo saying this is for everybody. That’s why I love her…it’s that all inclusive, forward thinking but no compromises’. The problem with all inclusiveness is that it always entails dumbing down. J A T