STEVEN HENRY MADOFF ON TATE MODERN'S NEW DIRECTOR
LATE LAST MAY, a full eleven months after Lars Nittve, Tate Modern's first director, announced his resignation, the Spaniard Vicente Todoli was named as his replacement. The London press, having had ample time to prepare, welcomed him in typically raucous fashion. STOOGE OR VISIONARY? TATE MODERN'S NEW BOSS, read the Times of London headline. In the Guardian, culture correspondent Maev Kennedy added her own acid commentary: "Everyone in the art world knew the job description should have read 'wanted, candidate to run Tate Modern and stand up to Sir Nicholas Serota.'" Serota, often called the most powerful man in British culture, oversees the quartet of Tate museums in London, Liverpool, and St. Ives.
Amid such cheering words, Todoli, 44, the founding director, in 1996, of the Museu Serralves in Porto, Portugal, takes up his new post this January--and he does so at a moment of extraordinary transition for the Tate as a whole. With the recent resignations of Jeremy Lewison and Sandy Nairne, the institution's directors of collections and programs, respectively; struggling attendance; and mounting financial pressures, including diminished government funding that may be frozen at its current level of about $43 million per annum, Serota's museums are, in his decorous words, "evolving. These are not easy times, but they are exciting ones."
Todoli was one of four finalists for the directorship. When asked to confirm the shortlist, Nadine Thompson, head of the Tate's press office, stated that she would only respond if the names were incorrect. There was no such reply. Two candidates repeatedly mentioned by independent sources are Richard Calvocoressi, director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, and Paul Schimmel, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Calvocoressi admitted his candidacy happily, while Schimmel demurred through his assistant to say, "No comment, and there is no basis for this whatsoever." The name of the fourth candidate, a senior London-based art figure whose job, it has been said, could be imperiled by exposure, has been withheld.
In conversation, the winner from that shortlist is quick-witted and forceful. Asked about working with so hands-on a boss as Serota, Todoli replies in his rapid-fire, heavily accented English: "I have known Nick closely since the late '80s, and I have no doubt I can work with him and the team. The ego is not important, the action is. If I thought Nick would micromanage, I would not have considered the job. This must be about trust, and I trust Nick." That is a remarkable leap of faith considering Serota's much documented record as a brilliant director challenged only by the notion of laissez-faire management.
Todoli, a native Valencian, won a Fulbright Fellowship to study art history at Yale in the early '80s and then went on to the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum. From 1986 to 1996, he served as artistic director of Spain's Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM) and quickly established both himself and the institution as rising players on the European scene. …