Government names new director of National Gallery of Canada

The government has selected a new director to add her touch to the canvas of Canada’s National Gallery.

Alexandra Suda has been announced today as the director of the National Gallery.

Suda comes to the position from the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), where she is currently the curator of European art and the R. Fraser Elliott chair of prints and drawing.

She also previously worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

‘Exceptional talent’

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said the government was confident they had made the right choice to lead the gallery.

“Through her exceptional talent, she will lead the National Gallery of Canada with the highest standards, making Canadians proud of their national art institution,” he said in a statement.

Suda replaces Marc Mayer, who served two five-year terms as head of the gallery. Last year, Mayer moved ahead with a plan to sell a Marc Chagall painting from the gallery’s collection to raise money to buy another work in Quebec that was set to leave Canada.

That decision sparked controversy and the gallery eventually abandoned the plan, after the Quebec government stepped in to prevent the other work from leaving the country.

Right choice

Stephan Jost, head of the AGO and Suda’s current boss, said she is absolutely the right person to lead the gallery.

“She thinks like a director. She thinks like an executive. And that was clear from the first meeting I had with her,” he said.

He said she knows how to work with donors, artists and the public to create the right space, and that she also knows what the gallery needs.

“There’s this need for the National Gallery to both be, you know, Ottawa’s main museum and be truly a national museum of a vast country,” he said. “You have to have a local audience but you also then have to really connect nationally whether it’s Newfoundland or, you know, Vancouver.”

Budget constraints

When Mayer moved to sell the Chagall he said the gallery desperately needed the money to be able to go after Canadian art that is in danger of leaving the country.

Jost said he is confident Suda will be able to deal with cost pressures. He said the key is to lead the market, not follow it, and look for underappreciated art.

“The AGO doesn’t have the acquisition budgets of the National Gallery and so everybody who works at AGO knows how to acquire things. You just have to be smarter than everybody else because you can’t follow. We don’t have the money to do it.”

Jost said Suda is also a quick learner and will adapt to Ottawa. Her French language skills, for example, will improve quickly, he said.

“She has limited French skills but she’s really smart. Give her 18 months, she’ll be there OK.”

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