'I've Left My Ego Behind'; How Will Tate Modern's New Catalan Boss Fit in with Team Serota?

By Maddocks, Fiona | The Evening Standard (London, England), May 22, 2003 | Go to article overview

'I've Left My Ego Behind'; How Will Tate Modern's New Catalan Boss Fit in with Team Serota?


Maddocks, Fiona, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: FIONA MADDOCKS

VICENTE Todol?? You will hear more of the new Tate Modern boss once he establishes himself in his bare, Bankside office which he plans to keep that way - without a scrap of art on the walls.

This is his first British interview. If he has his way, and there is no reason why he should not, it will also be his last for the foreseeable future. After six weeks as a London resident, he is still learning, from the inside, a city he thought he knew reasonably well as a tourist.

His chief complaint so far is the time it takes to get anywhere, naturally frustrating for a man who hurls himself across his office in one bound, as if trying to improve his own personal long-jump record.

Todol? (stress on the last syllable) is a Catalan by birth and the latest in a growing line of international curators heading Britain's museums. Aged 45, fast talking, fast moving, fast thinking, he shoots from the heart and smiles winningly. Stamina seeps from every pore. His strong accent, a year in New York as a Fulbright scholar notwithstanding, introduces an element of enigma to what he is saying (we spend several moments disentangling the sibilants of "thresholds").

He accepts that English speakers will pronounce his name Vissenty, not ( correctly) Vithentay or, better still, the Catalan version Veethent, which, with Franco still alive when he was born in 1958, he was not permitted to use as a child.

Sir Nicholas Serota, overall director of Tates metropolitan and regional and, therefore, Todol?'s boss, has underlined his credentials for running the former power station, which attracts an average of four million people a year. He especially welcomed Todol?'s experience and connections from southern Europe and Latin America - an area not conspicuously high on the agenda in an art world hitherto dominated by an "uptight" (Serota's word) northern European perspective.

Todol?'s predecessor was Lars Nittve, a Swede, who returned home unexpectedly last year to head the national museum amid rumours that he had wanted more autonomy. Serota, who, fairly or not, has been branded a "reluctant delegator", has himself effectively run Tate Modern since Nittve quit, although, as Todol? points out, most of the first five years' programming was already in place when the gallery opened in May 2000.

In any case, the new director is a realist. He knows - or in these early days, gives a good impression of knowing - his place in relation to Serota and the rest of the Tate conglomerate. Having set up three years ago the Serralves Museum in Porto, the first contemporary-art gallery in Portugal, he keenly welcomes the grander horizons of this new job and a staff six times as large.

In most other respects - scale of budget, exhibitions, public - the wider responsibilities are incalculable.

"I have come from a small corner of Europe to a great metropolis and an institution which must talk not only to the local community but to the world. …

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