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All Change at the Ashmolean Museum

27 January 2014

The Ashmolean Museum’s winter exhibition ‘Francis Bacon/Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone’ closed last Sunday. With 2013 done and dusted, the museum moved quickly on with the announcement that Alexander Sturgis will replace Christopher Brown as director in October.

Sturgis is currently the director of the Holburne Museum in Bath. He studied modern history at Oxford from 1982–5 and worked as the exhibitions officer at the National Gallery in the 1990s, where he overlapped with Brown (then chief curator at the gallery) before moving into a curatorial role after the latter’s departure. He joined the Holburne Museum – which opened its latest exhibition on ‘Joseph Wright of Derby’ last week – as director in 2005.

Brown isn’t going far. After 16 years at the museum, he will take a sabbatical before returning to Oxford and a three-year research professor post at the university. Before then he oversees an exhibition programme that includes ‘Cezanne and the Modern’ in the spring, and a blockbuster summer exhibition ‘Discovering Tutankhamun’, which will remain open through the changeover.

Extension to the Holburne Museum, Bath (2011), Eric Parry Architects

Extension to the Holburne Museum, Bath (2011), Eric Parry Architects

Both directors have overseen major development projects at their respective museums. In 2009 the Ashmolean Museum doubled the display space of Charles Cockerell’s original 1885 building, with an elegant extension by Rick Mather Architects. Eric Parry’s striking glass design for the Holburne Museum – again doubling the exhibition space – won a RIBA award in 2012, and was funded in small but memorable part by Sturgis’s own magical act as the ‘Great Xa’. Succeeding such a longstanding figurehead as Brown is no small task: there’ll be pressure on Sturgis in October to conjure up more winners of his own.

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