Life and career
After a period as an Assistant Curator at the Tate Gallery (1976–80) Nairne was appointed Director of Exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), a position he held until 1984 - exhibitions included "Brand New York," Robert Mapplethorpe, Mary Miss, "Women's Images of Men," and "About Time."
In 1987, Nairne wrote the television documentary series "State of the Art" for Channel 4. The series and Nairne's accompanying book acts as a follow on to the Robert Hughes series The Shock of the New and provides a critical survey of contemporary visual arts from America and Europe through the 1980s.
In 1988, Nairne was appointed as the director of the Visual Arts Department at the Arts Council. In this capacity, Nairne oversaw the re-invigoration of the British Art Show, the establishing of the Institute of International Visual Arts (InIVA) as a permanent organisation to promote culturally diverse projects, the furtherance of Percent for Art and the creation of the Curating Contemporary Art Course at the Royal College of Art.
Nairne became Director of Programmes for the Tate Gallery under Nicholas Serota. In this capacity, Nairne was responsible for the restructuring of the Tate's collection administration in preparation for the opening of Tate Modern and the redevelopment of the original Tate Gallery in Millbank as Tate Britain.
Nairne was responsible for the successful recovery of two late J.M.W. Turner paintings, stolen in Germany in 1994, and put back on display at Tate Britain in early 2003. He negotiated secretly for 8 years on behalf of the Tate to get the two paintings back. His experience is chronicled in his 2011 book, Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners.
Nairne became Director of the National Portrait Gallery in 2002.
Nairne's wife is the art historian Lisa Tickner, with whom he has a son, Christopher, and a daughter, the curator and art historian Eleanor Nairne. His brother, Andrew Nairne, is Director of Kettle's Yard Gallery, Cambridge. His other brother, James Nairne, Andrew's twin, is head of Art at Abingdon School, Oxfordshire.
- Jeremy Musson,Sandy Nairne, Country Life, 17 April 2008.
- Koch, Egmont R; Svensson, Nina (8 November 2005). "How the Tate found its Turners". BBC News. Retrieved 5 August 2011.
- Bailey, Martin (9 August 2011). "My life as an undercover negotiator". The Art Newspaper, Issue 226, July-August 2011.
- Nairne, Sandy (2011). Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners. Clerkenwell, London: Reaktion Books. ISBN 1780230206.
- The London Gazette: . 11 June 2011.
- "Main list of the 2011 Queen's birthday honours recipients". BBC News UK. Retrieved 11 June 2011.
- New Director at the National Portrait Gallery
- Article from the 24 Hour Museum
- Independent article, 'Wikipedia under the microscope over accuracy'
- Sandy Nairne photograph