Philip Takes on Top Role at the V&A Dundee

5 December 2018 16:38
Philip Long, Director of the V&A, Dundee

Helping to hang new shows at the on-campus Scott Gallery as an undergraduate Philip Long (Visual Arts,1987, Pendle) felt the buzz of the current art scene, but had no idea that he was laying the foundations for a high-flying career in museums and art galleries.

Now Director of the newly-opened £80m V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first design museum, and the first V&A in the world outside London, Philip Long greatly appreciates how the components of Lancaster's Visual Arts degree prepared him for his current role, with its requirement for academic knowledge alongside hands-on experience of creativity across a range of different art forms and techniques.

He says: “The undergraduate course at Lancaster involved both making and the study of other people’s work. As a curator you are showcasing people’s creativity and helping people to appreciate art more widely. The ability to both understand creativity and to scrutinise it academically is so valuable.”

The course offered a natural environment for creativity in his view and he particularly remembers helping with a show featuring huge drawings by the American artist RB Kitaj. “I had never seen anything like it before,“ he recalls. “The exhibition was absolutely inspirational and reminded us of why we were making art.”

After ten years of preparation for V&A Dundee to open, Philip is now the front man for the new museum, which has already been visited by 300,000. When making his university choices, however, Edinburgh-educated Philip considered architecture. He was already making art as a teenager and passionate about history and archaeology. What swung the balance in favour of Lancaster, was its practical and academic mix.

He arrived as a fresher to find his college was Pendle, where he soon felt part of a community and made friends, many of whom he is still in touch with today.

Being an art student was all-absorbing. When not making sculpture or painting, he and fellow students were sharing ideas and travelling to Manchester and London to see exhibitions, thanks to the University’s easy access to the transport network. He also spent time in the student union playing pool and joined the rock-climbing club to explore the nearby Lake District.

New ideas came at him from all directions. Particularly memorable was the teaching of Nigel Whiteley about design history and pop design. Philip was also influenced by the late Paul Hatton’s views on sculpture in which he specialised as a student. 

Now an acknowledged expert in Scottish art and design, Philip’s own degree show was a set of sculptures of figures - both human and animal - using a range of materials including paper and chunky pieces of wood, and a number of techniques to make them.

After graduation he went back home to Scotland to think about next steps. At first he questioned whether he should have concentrated more on a specific area of creative art practice, until he realised that his degree’s multi-disciplinary approach provided the perfect preparation for the broad requirements of museum and gallery work. He applied, and was accepted, to be part of the first intake of Essex University’s Master's in Museum and Galleries studies.

Following his Master's he became Assistant Director at The Fine Art Society. He was then taken on as a research assistant at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, before being appointed Special Project Advisor to the Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland for the development of a National Gallery of Scottish Art & Design.

From 2008 he both was both Project Manager for the National Galleries of Scotland and Senior Curator, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, until he became Director of the V&A Dundee in 2011.

This current role gives Philip huge satisfaction, as well as requiring a thick skin to survive the inevitable controversy, as critics debate the worth of this new museum presence on the UK’s art scene, with its eye-catching building by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. One of his most enjoyable tasks as director is talking to students and sharing his experiences.”

He says “My undergraduate course at Lancaster had many components and the ability to balance them has been the foundation for my work at the National Gallery of Scotland and then for the delivery of a national project such as the V&A Dundee.”

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