WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2007-12 > 1198414787
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] REID: Norman Robert Reid
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2007 12:59:47 -0000
Sir Norman Reid
Last Updated: 1:39am GMT 20/12/2007
Inspired director of the Tate who led the gallery into an era of expansion,
coaxing major gifts from artists such as Moore, Hepworth and Rothko
Reid (left with Tim Mara, winner of the Stowell's Trophy
in 1972): gave the Tate a sense of purpose
Sir Norman Reid, who died on Monday aged 91, was director of the Tate from
1964 to 1979 and was considered by many to have been the best leader the
gallery has ever had; he was also the only director to have been a
He joined the gallery just after the war when it was under the direction of
John (later Sir John) Rothenstein. At the time the Tate was severely
understaffed, and from the start Reid shouldered responsibilities way beyond
those of his nominal rank of deputy keeper. (Rothenstein later admitted that
he had taken him on chiefly because, as a former major in the Argylls, he
would know how to "look after the chaps".) When, two weeks after Reid's
arrival, Rothenstein went on a six-week tour of Europe with a Turner
exhibition, he was left in charge of the entire gallery, presiding over the
return of works that had been sent to refuge houses for the duration of the
In his early years Reid established the gallery's conservation department
and founded the Friends of the Tate and the American Friends of the Tate.
For 10 years before he assumed the directorship he was Rothenstein's deputy
director, a post in which he built a solid reputation not only as a shrewd
administrator but also as one with a scholarly knowledge and understanding
In a letter to the chairman of the trustees, Sir Dennis Proctor, Rothenstein
wrote that Reid was "popular with the staff and has a very good touch with
them, although neither the time nor inclination for over-intimacy". This air
of detatched authority helped Reid to remain aloof from many of the internal
squabbles that blighted Rothenstein's later tenure at the Tate.
As a result, when Rothenstein stepped down as director in 1964, the trustees
preferred Reid's claims over those of the better known and showier talents
of Bryan Robertson, of the Whitechapel Gallery, and Lawrence Gowing, then
principal of the Chelsea College of Art. The Daily Telegraph hailed Reid's
appointment as a "triumph for moderation".
Reid took over a gallery that was dilapidated and had no clear sense of
purpose. He increased the number of curators to seven, dividing them into
two departments, to deal with British art before 1900, and modern art after
1900; he appointed Ronald Alley keeper of the modern side, and his own
former rival Lawrence Gowing keeper of the British collection. In keeping
with Reid's vision that works of art were "living things" they worked
together to rearrange and redecorate the galleries, rehanging the entire
collection and creating, in effect, a separate modern museum within the
In the late 1960s the gallery began a programme of immensely popular and
influential exhibitions of works by, among others, Warhol, Lichtenstein,
Moore and Ben Nicholson - and an early presentation of Gilbert and George's
Living Statues. The success of these exhibitions in attracting a new, young
audience was underpinned in 1970 by the creation of a new Exhibitions and
Education department. The fact that the Tate was able to give a reasonable
account of the main movements of western art in the 20th century was largely
due to Reid, an achievement belatedly recognised with the opening of the
Tate Modern in 1999.
Like other Tate directors, Reid saw sought-after works sold abroad under his
nose. But he took to heart Rothenstein's advice that "if someone offers you
a gift, take it and run", and proved adept both in raising money from the
private sector to purchase new works and in persuading artists and
collectors to donate works to the gallery.
Reid considerably strengthened the collection, particularly in the area of
early 20th-century European art. He made important acquisitions of works by
Picasso (The Three Dancers) and Giacometti (a group of sculptures and
paintings) and acquired outstanding works by Constantin Brancusi, Piet
Mondrian, Henri Matisse and Salvador Dal. As a result of his friendships
with artists the collection received gifts from, amongst others, Henry
Moore, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo. He also augmented the
gallery's earlier collections, launching a successful fund-raising drive to
acquire The Haymakers and The Reapers by George Stubbs in 1977.
Perhaps his most impressive coup was to secure the American artist Mark
Rothko's Seagram murals as a gift for the gallery. The nine huge paintings
had originally been commissioned to adorn the walls of a room in the new
Four Seasons restaurant at the Seagram Building in New York. In 1959,
however, the notoriously prickly Rothko had pulled out of the deal. British
galleries do not have many great paintings by the abstract expressionists,
and in the mid-1960s Reid set about persuading the artist to donate the
paintings to the Tate.
As it turned out, it appealed to Rothko to be in the same gallery as JMW
Turner. Even so, the gift took years of negotiation, Rothko insisting on a
permanent, exclusive room for his bleak murals and resisting any attempt to
mix them with other examples of his work. It also needed diplomatic gifts
and patience of the highest order.
After Rothko had made a surprise visit to London in 1966 he wrote a furious
letter to Reid complaining of "your complete personal neglect of my presence
in London and your failure to provide adequate opportunities for
discussions". In fact, as Reid admitted later, he had been waiting for
Rothko to approach him, concerned that otherwise he might put off the artist
by seeming too eager.
Over a period of five years, whenever Reid was in New York he visited
Rothko's dark studio. For hours they talked as fellow artists, the American
painter always drinking more than his guest, and pored over cardboard models
which Reid made of the proposed room in the Tate for the murals, discussing
the best way to hang the paintings.
The deal was concluded just in time, for the paintings eventually arrived at
the gallery on February 25 1970, the day of the artist's suicide. They were
to be housed in the new North-East Quadrant, the Tate's first major physical
extension since its foundation; opened in 1979, it was one of two building
projects initiated by Reid, the other being the Clore Gallery housing the
Norman Robert Reid was born into a working-class family in Dulwich on
December 27 1915 and educated at Wilson's Grammar School, Camberwell, where
an art master, Peter Westwater, encouraged his interest in painting. Under
Westwater's influence Norman went to Goldsmiths for life-drawing evening
classes at the age of 14.
His parents had little interest in art, and his father arranged for him to
be apprenticed to a commercial studio when he left school. His father was
therefore horrified when Norman admitted that he had applied for, and won, a
scholarship to Edinburgh College of Art. None the less the young man was
allowed to take up the place.
During the Second World War Reid served with the Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders, latterly in Italy, reaching the rank of major. On being
demobbed in 1946 he joined the staff at the Tate, becoming deputy to
Rothenstein in 1954 and Keeper four years later. Finally, in 1964, he took
over as director on Rothenstein's retirement.
Though Reid had little sympathy with pop art or the wilder shores of
conceptual and vivisectionist art (which he regarded as "ephemeral"), he was
unstinting in his support of curators who were enthusiasts during the
inevitable controversies which surrounded major exhibitions and purchases.
In 1971, when Robert Morris was invited by the Tate Gallery to put on the
first large-scale presentation of his work in Europe, the artist reduced the
retrospective nature of the exhibition to a slide show of his minimalist
work and surprised the audience with a new body of work entitled
The audience was invited to interact with messy structures built out of wood
and iron. And they did. During the first week 16 people were injured, and
Reid was forced to take the embarrassing decision to close the exhibition.
It reopened a week later with a somewhat less compelling collection of
hastily brought-together substitute works from Morris's minimalist period.
An even greater controversy blew up in 1975, when a sharp-eyed journalist
noticed the acquisition of a piece by the American sculptor Carl Andre
consisting of a rectangular assemblage of 120 bricks. The issue of "The
Bricks" (later entitled Equivalent VIII) soon became a cause clbre, with
newspapers and politicians competing to pour scorn on the gallery and its
curators for what was widely seen as a scandalous waste of money.
Whatever his true opinions on the matter, Reid stoutly defended his staff;
and when the Burlington Magazine added its pennyworth to the chorus of
derision, he resigned from its board, though not before arranging for the
assistant keeper of the Modern Collection, Richard Morphet, to publish a
piece in the magazine defending the acquisition.
During his time at the Tate, Reid's own artistic career took a back seat,
though he painted as much as he could in his spare time. He was modest about
his skills as an artist, protesting that he never broke new ground. This was
true; but when, long after his retirement, he began to exhibit his work, his
flower pieces, portraits and landscapes of the countryside around his home
in Kent revealed an artist of considerable gifts. Examples of his paintings
are represented at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and at the
Reid served on numerous advisory bodies and committees. He was Secretary
General of the Institute for Conservation from 1963 to 1965 and its
vice-chairman in 1966; the British representative on the Committee on
Museums and Galleries of Modern Art (1963-79); and a member of the Arts
Council Art Panel (1964-74) and of the Institute of Contemporary Arts
Advisory Panel from 1965.
He was also on the Contemporary Art Society Committee from 1965 to 1977, and
served for 12 years on the British Council Fine Arts Committee, acting as
its chairman from 1968 to 1975. He was a member of the Paul Mellon Centre's
advisory council (1971-78). He was a trustee of the Graham and Kathleen
Sutherland Foundation from 1980 to 1985.
He was knighted in 1970.
Norman Reid married, in 1941, Jean Lindsay Bertram, a fellow student at the
Edinburgh College of Art. She died earlier this year, and he is survived by
their son and daughter.
|[W-OBITS] REID: Norman Robert Reid by "Peter McCrae" <>|