Charles Saumarez Smith, who has overseen the revamp of the Royal Academy of Arts, has announced that he is leaving the prestigious artist- and architect-run institution in London to become the senior director of London and Berlin-based Blain|Southern gallery.
It’s a short walk from the RA in Piccadilly to Blain|Southern’s space in Hanover Square but a giant leap professionally. Saumarez Smith has spent his career in the world of museums, first at the Victoria & Albert Museum as head of research, then as the director of London’s National Portrait Gallery, followed by the top job at the National Gallery next door. He surprised many when he left the National Gallery to become the secretary and chief executive of the RA in 2007, which he has led with skill and flair over the past decade, overseeing numerous blockbuster shows, including David Hockney and Anish Kapoor, as well as the RA’s annual Summer Exhibition.
Saumarez Smith will leave the RA at the end of a year, a spokesman for Blain|Southern tells artnet News. It has been a momentous 12 months at the RA, which has celebrated its 250th anniversary by opening a David-Chipperfield link to its two buildings, which was completed in May. Shortly afterwards Saumarez Smith was honored with a knighthood by the Queen.
Blain|Southern co-directors Harry Blain and Graham Southern said in a statement: “We are delighted to welcome Charles to the gallery. Having headed up three of the most prominent art institutions in the UK, if not the world, Charles brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that will benefit our artists, the gallery programme and external exhibitions worldwide.”
Saumarez Smith, who is travelling in Italy, said in a statement: “I have known Harry Blain and Graham Southern ever since they took the lease on Burlington Gardens for Haunch of Venison,” a reference to their former gallery’s tenancy in the RA building. He also noted that it represents artists who are also Royal Academicians. “I am very much looking forward to working with them all, using my experience to build upon Blain|Southern’s achievements.”
The gallery represents the artist and RA Sean Scully, who recently told artnet News that Blain|Southern is looking to expand from London and Berlin to New York. A gallery spokesman would not confirm this, saying “New York is important.”
The RA has become more entrepreneurial internationally with Saumarez Smith at the helm, organizing exhibitions of RA’s work in Hong Kong in particular. In 2014, it presented editions of RA’s works at a pop-up store in Bicester Village, a retail outlet popular with Chinese tourists in Oxfordshire. At home in London the RA takes part in the Mayfair Art Weekend and it plays host to Pace Gallery. Unlike the national art museums he has run, the RA receives no government subsidy, generating all of its income through fundraising, ticket sales and its Friends. Students of the Royal Academy School do not pay fees, receiving free tuition and studio space during their three-year postgraduate course.
The president of the RA, the artist Christopher Le Brun, told the Guardian newspaper: “History is likely to judge to judge him as the most successful of all Royal Academy secretaries.”