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Karen Quinlan appointed director NPG

Bendigo Art Gallery director Karen Quinlan has been appointed the new director of the National Portrait Gallery. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong.

Sally Prior, New National Portrait Gallery director a risk taker with a big vision, The Canberra Times, 25 September 2018

There’s another changing of the guard happening in Canberra’s cultural precinct.

Karen Quinlan has been announced as the new director of the National Portrait Gallery, after current director Angus Trumble announced that he would not seek another appointment when his term ends next year.

Ms Quinlan has been the director of the Bendigo Art Gallery for the past 18 years, and was its curator for three years prior to that.

“I went there for one year, originally, then three, then after that became the director,” she said on Tuesday.

“I’ve had an incredible career to date, the Bendigo gallery has pushed above its weight, and I just feel I’m at a point where I’m ready to make that move after 18 years as director.”

Under her directorship, the Bendigo gallery has received international recognition for its exhibitions, many of which have focused on portraiture.

Staff at both Bendigo and Canberra were told of the appointment on Tuesday, as Ms Quinlan travelled to the national capital to address her new team for the first time.

She told Fairfax Media that, with her two teenage children in tow, she expected to feel at home in Canberra, despite being a lifelong Victorian, born, bred and educated in Melbourne.

She will be taking over the portrait gallery’s top job as the institution prepares to close down for six months while major repairs are carried out on the 10-year-old building.

The gallery will close between April and September in 2019 to allow for major structural work, including replacing double-glazing in windows, and flooring inside and outside the $87 million building.

Ms Quinlan wouldn’t comment on the shut-down, and said she had yet to be briefed about the issues surrounding the building’s defects.

“I think I will miss the Victorian buildings that I’ve been surrounded by in Bendigo, but having said that, it was time for a change, and I’m looking forward to the challenges,” she said.

“I’ve had a walk around the building today and I’m very excited, because you don’t see behind the scenes, obviously, when you come to visit, and it’s a beautiful building.”

But she said it would be an interesting change, moving from one of the country’s oldest art galleries – Bendigo was established in 1887 – to one of its youngest.

“I think the formula is the same in lots of ways,” she said.

“In particular the regional sector in many ways looks to Bendigo as a shining light or a source of inspiration, and because we have worked with some very significant cultural institutions internationally, I suppose the risk and the adventure in that is something that I’m used to.

“I am a risk taker, I do have big vision, I did want to put Bendigo on the map.

“When I first started meeting with institutions overseas, no one had heard of Bendigo, of course, but I’m offered exhibitions now.”

The Bendigo gallery has hosted several blockbuster exhibitions from overseas collections, including Grace Kelly: Style Icon, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece, and Bendigo Art Gallery and Twentieth Century Fox present Marilyn Monroe.

Ms Quinlan also oversaw two building extensions during her tenure there, with the most recent, in 2014, being an $8.5 million contemporary wing.

The next big show to open at Bendigo, Tudors to Windsors, is coming from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

“It’s a brilliant exhibition, and that was offered to us,” she said.

“We’re having a lot of fun with it too, and they’re the sorts of exhibitions that I’m interested in. I like the monumental, I like statements, but I also love art prizes.

“I love collecting contemporary art, I engage with artists, industry professionals, curators, gallery directors, I bring a good network.”

Ms Quinlan will be the portrait gallery’s fourth director; its founding director, the late Andrew Sayers, left the institution to run the National Museum of Australia in 2010, and was succeeded by Louise Doyle, who had been assistant director.

She left in 2013, to be succeeded by Mr Trumble. Ms Quinlan will take over the role on December 10.