Breakfast with the FT: Nicholas Penny

“The National Gallery’s great advantage is that we are obliged to give prominence to works of art that are important in the collection but don’t mean much to people today,” he says cheerfully. Conceptual works by trendy names – notably installations by Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger alongside Titian in 2012 – have entered the National Gallery during Penny’s reign but more than any of the world’s leading museum directors, Penny’s vision of art history remains rooted in the Renaissance. “I don’t believe art up to the present should be taught at university,” he says. “Because of consumer demand, the explosion of teaching of contemporary art now is colossal – and it is achieved at the expense of older art. We at the National Gallery should do more to become a magnet for scholarship.”

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