In this week of toadying obsequies after the (rather late) retirement of Sir Nicholas Serota from his imperial throne at Tate, an alternative narrative (briefly) enters the minds of the mischievous.
Alone, aloof, fastidious, austere, he is sitting, suited darkly, in his office surveying, with a basilisk stare, the spreadsheets and data-sets his cowering elfin helpmeets have presented him. They step backwards towards the door bowing, afraid to meet his eyes, as he shoots freezing glances towards them. His lips soon purse in cool satisfaction. He is maybe even stroking a furry white cat. Or perhaps a PVC balloon pussy by Jeff Koons.
The numbers on his spreadsheets are all about attendances. And they are big numbers. Sir Nicholas — ‘Nick’ to his chums — is, or was, the great cham of the new museum religion. Here, an article of faith is that ever-higher attendances are the surest test of value. Success is a calculus of footfall. All of them, these acolytes of the museum faith, default to new building projects as a device to lure and secure more visitors. Nick has created more new buildings than most. The crowds, not the content, make you credible, at least so far as the DCMS is concerned.