ExpertNorman Rosenthal

About the Expert

Norman Rosenthal (b.1944) is a London-based freelance curator. He first rose to prominence as the director and chief curator of the Royal Academy, a position he held between 1977 and 2008. During his tenure he worked towards assembling a variety of prodigious exhibitions, including Italian Art of the Twentieth Century (1989), the controversial Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection (1997), and the well-regarded Anish Kapoor retrospective of 2009. He left the Academy in 2008 to pursue a variety of self-directed projects.

In his early career Rosenthal worked at the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery before gaining valuable experience as an art researcher for London dealers and publishers Agnew and Sons. He then moved to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, coordinating shows as an exhibitions officer for four years before taking the position of curator at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London. His two years spent at the ICA from 1973 were of vital importance for his professional development and understanding of contemporary art.

Accorded a travel grant for his work as curator, he explored Germany, a nation rife with political tension after the student protests of 1968. It was during this journey that he met the Greek art historian and curator Christos Joachimides, who became a long-time friend and collaborator. He soon became affiliated with the avant-garde artists of the period such as Joseph Beuys, Hans Haacke, and Gustav Metzger. Having a German mother, Rosenthal spoke the language fluently, facilitating close relationships with these artists and more, including them in his first major exhibition at the Institute Art into Society; Society into Art. The show of radical German art, one of the first of its kind in London, was formed in collaboration with Joachimides.

After two years Rosenthal became displeased with the upper management of the ICA, leaving his post to begin writing for the Spectator.  The current president at the time of the Royal Academy, Hugh Casson, took notice of an article criticising the institution for its lack of drive and direction. Casson forwarded it on to the Academicians, an act which in part led to Rosenthal’s hiring as exhibitions secretary. For over thirty years he oversaw events at the RA while securing numerous high-profile loans and collaborating with a plethora of revered curators. His work led to the revitalization of the museum, and the enablement of monumental exhibitions, ranging the gamut of Renaissance to contemporary art. While showcases on Frans Hals, Chardin, Goya, Mantegna and Sir Joshua Reynolds were well received, it was in contemporary art that Rosenthal would cement his status as a curator where he is most active today. Throughout his tenure at the Royal Academy he also curated exhibitions which traveled oversees, such as  British Art in the Twentieth Century (1987) shown at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, and American Art in the Twentieth Century (1993 at the RA) which was exhibited at Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin in 1994.

Since leaving the Royal Academy Norman Rosenthal has been involved in exhibitions with the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Gagosian Gallery in New York, and the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris.

Rosenthal has been bestowed with numerous awards in recognition of his services to art and culture, including the Iron Cross Order of Merit in 1991 (Germany), Officier, l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France) in 2003 and the German British Forum Award in 2003. In 2007 he was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

His versatility and unrelinquishing contribution to the contemporary art world has distinguished him as one of the foremost and celebrated curators of his generation.

Norman Rosenthal 's Insights