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He cut his teeth as an art critic, and worked with Damien Hirst and the disruptive Young British Artists group. After a successful stint as artistic director of London’s famous Royal Academy of Arts, Tim Marlow finds himself the new head of the city’s Design Museum. With one mission: to bring the world of design to life.

“I remain fascinated by history, using it to frame the present and look at the future.”

When you talk to Marlow you feel the sweep of his interests and – always – his passion.
One minute he is telling you about his fandom, and the next about how the Rothko room in the Tate “mystified me and formed a sublime connection with Turner, whose works were nearby”. But always there is a sense that this is a historian talking, a man who sees the art and architecture – and even the football club – of a place as a manifestation of its ongoing story.
The historian is therefore clearly delighted that he has been given the responsibility of telling a new story through the London Design Museum.

“I’m an art historian by training and a cultural commentator by evolution, but what’s been my life’s work is engaging with creative people directly – artists at White Cube, artists and architects at the RA, and now I’m doing the same with designers here, as I want the museum to become more closely linked with the design community.”

The new space “challenges me to generate activity in it and that is exactly what I am going to do – activate the museum.”

This, he says, is going to be particularly important as we come out of lockdown: “Museums are places of human experience, visceral, physical. Of course, this is a place full of physical objects. But it’s also a place where people come together. And it’s not about only herding them into blockbuster exhibitions, either; there should be a place that not only showcases design, but also design research and design thinking.”

He wants the museum to appeal to the wider community, too. A great challenge:  many art galleries have managed to create a relationship with their visitors, and he wants to “grow that commonality, to create an audience that trusts in the authority of what this place presents”.

“I want to involve inventors, entrepreneurs, thinkers – design brings collaboration into relief; you can’t design and put something into production without collaboration. The myth of the romantic artist working in the studio alone is not applicable to design.”

DISPATCHES by Peter Howarth: Alessandro Squarzi