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Sandy Nairne

Sandy Nairne

Former Director, National Portrait Gallery

My Posts:

Job description

I have been Director since 2002. I am responsible for the overall strategic direction of the Gallery, the Gallery’s public programme and for promoting the Gallery’s work in Britain and abroad. I am answerable to the Board of Trustees, through their Chairman, and also to government as a Chief Accounting Officer. During my directorship I have been keen to support research at all levels within the Gallery.


I studied for a first degree in Modern History and Economics at Oxford University. While a student I became involved in the contemporary arts through vacation work at the Richard Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh, working with such artists as Joseph Beuys and Tadeusz Kantor. When I graduated in 1974 I worked first at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, under Nicholas Serota, moving to the Tate in 1976 to become a Research Assistant and then an Assistant Keeper in the Modern Collection. In 1980 I was appointed as Director of Exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and in 1984 spent three years developing a book and television series for Channel 4 entitled State of the Art. From 1987 I was Director of Visual Arts for the Arts Council of Great Britain, and was subsequently awarded a Senior Research Fellowship from the Getty Grant Program, which led to the book. Thinking About Exhibitions, Routledge 1996, co-edited with Reesa Greenberg and Bruce Ferguson.

From 1994 to 2002 I was Director of Programmes at Tate, working alongside Nicholas Serota, in the creation of Tate Modern, the Centenary Development at Tate Britain, and the development of Tate’s learning, national and digital programmes. I am a Senior Fellow of the Royal College Art, an Honorary Fellow of University College, Oxford and have honorary degrees from De Montfort University, London University and Middlesex University. I am currently Chairman of the Fabric Advisory Committee of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Art Advisory Group for Maggie’s Centres.

Research interests

My research interests include English baroque architecture, contemporary portraiture, museum management, art theft, and public policy in the arts. I lecture frequently and take part in numerous seminars and conferences.

Recent Publications

Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners, Reaktion Press, 2011 and for the National Portrait Gallery, The Portrait Now, 2006 and The 21st Century Portrait, forthcoming, 2013, both with Sarah Howgate, as well as an Introduction to 500 Portraits, 2011.