Magazine article Artforum International

Jeremy Lewison

Magazine article Artforum International

Jeremy Lewison

Article excerpt

The Tate Gallery has become something of a British Guggenheim in its ambitions: Divide and conquer. Though less globe-trotting than its American colleague, the Tate's four showplaces now boast some 350,000 square feet of exhibition space in which to display the museum's collection of more than 60,000 works. Holding the keys to the treasure is Jeremy Lewison, keeper of the Tate collection. Lewison stands between Bankside's Lars Nittve and Millbank's Stephen Deuchar as the man with his hand on the throttle of acquisitions, the director of research, the overseer of thirty curators. "I am," he says with matter-of-fact satisfaction, at the center."

No doubt, his satisfaction is earned. Lewison was appointed director of collections in 1998, after climbing the Tate's ranks during the previous thirteen years. Having started as an assistant curator of drawings (fresh from six years as the curator at the University of Cambridge's modest but progressive exhibition hall, Kettle's Yard), he then directed prints and drawings before moving on to the modern collection, which he also ended up running. Charming and well-spoken--though known for a certain martial intensity and the occasional cold glare of authority when challenged--there is something of the civil servant about Lewison. In fact he recommends the description. "I know it's hard for an American in the midst of a heated, market-driven art scene to understand," he says, "but there still is in the British art world a sense of the importance of working for the public institution."

Yet government support has been lean ever since Margaret Thatcher slapped manacles on the slender wrists of the arts. The subsidy allotted the Tate for acquisitions today is, frighteningly, the same as it was in 1982-[pounds]1.9 million ($3 million). Lewison spends a lot of time seeking out the charity of friends, which last year amounted to a supplement of another [pounds]1. …

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