We’re hiring: Federal government posts job of National Gallery director

Marc Mayer. Photo courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada

The process has formally begun to replace National Gallery Director Marc Mayer with a call on a federal website for candidates interested in the job.

This was expected as Mayer indicated earlier this spring that, after a decade in his position, he would not seek, nor would he accept, an extension of his tenure after it expires this winter. He is expected to head off into new opportunities by next January.

The beginning of the search for a new director comes as the Gallery has emerged, battle-scarred, from a massive public controversy over the attempted auction sale of a painting by Marc Chagall called The Eiffel Tower through the Christie’s auction house. The money raised would have been used to buy a painting by the important French painter Jacques-Louis David called St. Jerome Hears the Trumpet of the Last Judgment, in a bid to keep it in Canada. It was being offered for sale by the archdiocese of Quebec. The Quebec government intervened and said the painting was part of the province’s heritage and could not leave its borders without permission.

The board of trustees of the gallery was left with little choice but to pull the Chagall from the auction house and return it to Ottawa. The costs assumed by this decision were covered by a donor. But the damage was done. The gallery was at the centre of a media storm that went on for weeks and seemed to take the officials of the institution by surprise with its intensity.

There has been a lot of turnover in the senior ranks of the Gallery in the first half of 2018. Chief curator, Paul Lang, took a position as the director of the Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg in his hometown in France. He left on April 1. The first head of the Canadian Photography Institute, Luce Lebart, left her post abruptly, and mysteriously, in March after just a year and a half in the position. Lebart has since said she left to pursue a new opportunity back in France. Both jobs are being handled by veteran curator Ann Thomas.

There have been been other indications of trouble inside the gallery. The Ottawa Citizen obtained a survey of staff, by the firm CareerJoy, that indicated widespread dissatisfaction among employees at the gallery with the institution’s senior management. Only 16 per cent of respondents, the poll showed for example, agreed that senior management made effective and timely decisions. The poll was taken in February before the Chagall controversy erupted. About 70 per cent of gallery employees responded to the survey. However an overwhelming majority of respondents said they liked their job and would recommend the gallery as “a good place to work.”

The job is one of the premier positions in the Canadian and international art worlds. It oversees the country’s extensive collection.

The review of applicants is to begin on July 3. The salary ranges from $179,200 to $210,000.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.