British Museum appoints new director

Front entrance of the British Museum. Courtesy CC 2.0. Photo: Ham

The British Museum has chosen the head of the National Portrait Gallery, Nicholas Cullinan, as its new director. His appointment comes in the wake of revelations last year that thousands of objects had gone missing from the museum’s Greek and Roman collection in a theft scandal that remains ongoing. Cullinan replaces interim director Mark Jones, formerly the head of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who stood in temporarily following the departure of Hartwig Fischer last year amid the scandal. 

Cullinan previously worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Tate Modern in London. In his most recent role he led a major renovation of the National Portrait Gallery, which was widely praised following the reopening of the gallery in 2023 after three years behind closed doors. He will now be tasked with the refurbishment of the British Museum, bringing both ‘architectural and intellectual’ transformation to the institution, he said in a news statement, and ‘making the British Museum the most engaged and collaborative it can be’. 

While fundraising for the National Portrait Gallery refurbishment, Cullinan notably turned down a $1.3 million donation from the Sackler family, distancing the gallery from the family’s emerging links to the opioid crisis. At the British Museum he will need to tackle the much-discussed matter of the Parthenon Marbles – and the museum’s wider approach to repatriation – which remains unresolved. Cullinan joins former Conservative chancellor George Osborne, chair of the museum since 2021, who stated that Cullinan ‘brings proven leadership today and great potential for tomorrow’.

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