During his 31 years as the exhibitions secretary at London’s Royal Academy, Sir Norman Rosenthal staged groundbreaking exhibitions of art including the legendary show, “A New Spirit in Painting” (1981), which brought artists such as Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Georg Baselitz to broader recognition.
“Art is entertainment, but entertainment in the best sense of the word,” he says in our latest podcast, speaking to host Charlotte Burns. “Museums, in the end, are like cupboards. And with the contents of the cupboards you have to try and make beautiful things—exhibitions that can tell with genuine artifacts aspects of the great story of art and human civilization.”
Since leaving the RA in 2008, Rosenthal has organized exhibitions and written essays for a number of organizations such as Gagosian, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (“If you’re freelance, you are a kind of whore—but you can choose your clients,” he says).
No stranger to controversy, Rosenthal talks us through his views on restitution and commerce (“the best dealers are nearly always ahead of the best curator. You name a curator who’s really made a really serious decision about “the future”, he says) and tells us where he finds great art today.
“In Other Words” is a presentation of AAP and Sotheby’s, produced by Audiation.fm.
Click here for full transcript
“If you're a freelance person, you are a kind of whore, but you can choose your clients” “People thought I was either mad or corrupt, and I was accused of both. I was accused of madness and corruption.” “The best dealers are nearly always ahead of the best curator. You…
independent curator and art historian
Sir Norman Rosenthal, a London-based freelance curator, was previously the exhibitions secretary at London’s Royal Academy for over 30 years, from 1977 until 2008. There, he organized countless blockbuster shows, from Mantegna and Botticelli, to the Aztecs, to the controversial “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection” as well as the legendary “A New Spirit in Painting”, which introduced artists such as Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter to an audience beyond Germany.
Rosenthal has received a number of awards recognizing his commitment to art and culture, including the Iron Cross Order of Merit in 1991 (Germany), Officier, l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France) in 2003, the German British Forum Award in 2003 and a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2007.
Since leaving the Royal Academy in 2008, Rosenthal has been involved in exhibitions with the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, Gagosian Gallery and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.
editor of In Other Words
Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.
Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.
The live record
Behind the Scenes: Norman Rosenthal on Seducing the Audience
For more by Norman Rosenthal
Jeff Koons: Conversations with Norman Rosenthal by Norman Rosenthal, published by Thames & Hudson (2014)
Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Gallery by Norman Rosenthal, published by Royal Academy of Arts (2009)
Anselm Kiefer: Works from the Hall Collection by Norman Rosenthal, Bonnie Clearwater and Joe Thompson, published by Skira Rizzoli (2007)
Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001 by Norman Rosenthal, Catherine Lampert and Isabel Carlisle, published by Royal Academy of Arts (2001)
“Georg Baselitz: One of the World’s Greatest Living Artists” by Norman Rosenthal in The Independent (2014)
“Upside-Down World” by Norman Rosenthal in The Guardian (2007)
Conversations with Norman Rosenthal
“Sir Norman Rosenthal, with David Carrier and Joachim Pissarro” in The Brooklyn Rail (2014)
“Norman Rosenthal” by Alain Elkann (2014)
“Georg Baselitz in Conversation with Norman Rosenthal” by White Cube (2011)
“Sir Norman Rosenthal” by the editors of Art in America (2009)
For more on Norman Rosenthal
“Rosenthal Quits Royal Academy After 31 Years of Blockbusters” by Martin Hodgson in The Guardian (2008)
“He Doesn’t Have Muscle, but He Has Chutzpah” by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian (2007)
“‘I’m a Lucky Bugger’” by Simon Hattenstone in The Guardian (2002)
“‘Spirit’ Show Highlights Contemporary Painting” by Susan Heller Anderson in The New York Times (1981)