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National Gallery: Gabriele Finaldi Interview

17 October 2015 Nicky Charlish

Ever since its foundation in 1824, the National Gallery has not only been one of London’s most iconic institutions. It also has major status among the World’s art institutions in terms of scholarship and content, and its past directors include Lord Clark of television series ‘Civilization’ fame. So its newly-appointed director, Doctor Gabriele Finaldi, has a tough act to follow. But he seems more than up to the challenge. London Calling caught up with him at the press show for the current Goya exhibition

London Calling: How do you define art?

Gabriele Finaldi:
That’s a big one to start with! I think art is about communication, about lifting the viewer to consider other realms. Simply put, I think, since you ask me cold.

LC: You have Italian parentage, but you were brought- up in London [Finaldi was educated at Dulwich College, whose former pupils include PG Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler, and the Courtauld Institute, as well as a having a stint at the Prado museum in Madrid]. How has having that dual background affected you?

GF: It has been enormously enriching. I think that’s true of all those people who have a background different from which the one in which they are born and grew up. They have another string to their bow. They may have additional languages.   There’s a certain kind of natural empathy from growing up in an environment where you have to deal-with ways of thinking, ways of speaking. For me, this has certainly been a plus.

LC: How do you see the future of the National Gallery in terms of exhibition content and funding issues?

GF: The National Gallery is famous for its exhibitions and we want to continue that. Exhibitions are fundamental in terms of the way the Gallery presents its collections, its research, and also the Gallery kind of stretches its visitors to see things that are different, or they don’t know much about or don’t know at all. In terms of funding we’re going into a difficult period and waiting to see what the spending review will be.  I’m keen that the National Gallery can continue to maintain its activities, maintain free access, and continue to engage with visitors and with the cultural world as a whole.

LC: How have you solved the Gallery’s industrial problems [some Gallery staff have recently been on strike over the planned privatisation of visitor services]?

GF: Well, I’m pleased to say that the industrial action has come to an end, and all the galleries are open, the staff is back in the galleries, it’s important to say that we are open, the gallery is open and free, all the galleries are now visitable, the staff is back.  We are gradually working our way to the outsourcing arrangements, which will start in November.

LC: Finally, what do you like about living in London in general?

GF: I enjoy living in London because it really is the great world capital. What London has to offer is very varied and extraordinary, very exciting. There are music, theatre, arts, parks, wonderful things to visit. Londoners have the opportunity to be constantly subjected to wonderful experiences.

For further information about the National Gallery including cureent exhibition Goya: The Portraits, see website.

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