Italy hires foreign directors to cure 'sclerotic' museums

A close-up detail shows Michelangelo's statue of David at Accademia museum Florence September 8, 2004.  REUTERS/Max Rossi
A close-up detail shows Michelangelo’s statue of David at Accademia museum Florence September 8, 2004.

Reuters/Max Rossi


The museums that house masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Venus will soon be run by foreign directors for the first time as Italy overhauls what a senior official called its “sclerotic” museum management.

Following an international head-hunt, the culture ministry on Tuesday named 20 new managers to lead Italy’s most prestigious galleries.

Seven of the successful candidates are non-Italians – including those chosen for the Uffizi and Accademia museums in Florence, which respectively house The Birth of Venus, one of the world’s most famous paintings, and the marble David.

The appointments are part of a ministry-wide reorganization aimed at boosting Italy’s capacity to preserve and promote its artistic and architectural treasures, whose upkeep has been threatened by decades of mismanagement and neglect.

“The museum system was sclerotic. A weak system: inadequate resources and paralyzing rules,” Paolo Baratta, tasked by the ministry to guide the selection process, told La Repubblica daily on Tuesday before the nominations were announced.

“It is a very different situation from what happens abroad, where museums are real cultural engines,” said Baratta, currently president of the 120 year-old Venice Biennale art fair.

The roster of 20 new managers is evenly divided into 10 men and 10 women. Among them is German art historian Eike Schmidt, who will direct the Uffizi Gallery after stints working in the United States and Britain as well as Italy, and British-Canadian architect, designer and museum manager James Bradburne, who will run the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

German historian and museum director Cecilie Hollberg will run the Accademia.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said on Twitter that the appointments marked an “upgrade” of the system, but the appointment of foreign directors drew some criticism in Italy.

Art critic and former junior culture minister Vittorio Sgarbi said Franceschini had embarrassed “his army of excellent Italians”.

“Why did there absolutely have to be seven foreigners? And why precisely 10 men and 10 women?” Sgarbi said. “It was a sort of political correctness … for show.”

Baratta said the museums would remain partly under the aegis of the state but new directors would have to raise funds independently, echoing a call from Franceschini for private as well as public investment.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; editing by Clelia Oziel)

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