El patrocinio secreto de la Tate


La semana pasada más de 100 miembros del colectivo Liberate Tate desplegaron una tela negra de 64 metros cuadrados a modo de reinterpretación del emblemático Cuadrado Negro del abstracto ruso Kazimir Malevich, cuya obra hace parte de la exposición de Malevich que tiene lugar en la Tate Modern.

El escrutinio de la financiación de las artes es, una vez más, el foco de atención en Inglaterra. Luego de más de tres años batalla entre la Tate  y varios grupos de activistas, la icónica institución británica se presentó ante el Tribunal de Información tras su negativa a declarar la cantidad exacta de dinero que reciben como patrocinio del gigante petrolero BP (British Petroleum). La audiencia es el resultado de la fuerte respuesta de la Tate a una solicitud presentada por el colectivo Request Initiative en conjunto con el grupo activista Platform. Esto sucede pocos días después de la intervención de Liberate Tate en la Tate Modern. En el mismo tribunal, la Tate manifestó su temor en torno a que este tipo de protestas se “podrían intensificar” si las cifras reales del patrocinio se hacen públicas.

Durante años, los activistas han estado tratando de descubrir la cantidad exacta y detalles de los acuerdos de patrocinio de la BP con la Tate. Lo han hecho mediante el uso de la ley Británica de Libertad de Información (FOI). Los activistas de Platform de Londres, en colaboración con Request Initiative, han intentado averiguar la cantidad de dinero que la Tate había recibido en el patrocinio de BP, así como acceder a copias de documentos que han circulado entre la Tate y BP, donde la renovación del acuerdo de patrocinio del gigante petrolero fue discutido y finalmente aprobado. Mientras que los activistas han utilizado la información existente en el dominio público para estimar que la cantidad Tate recibe de BP, en sus registros sólo se refleja un insignificante 0,4% del presupuesto operativo general de Tate. La cifra exacta se desconoce. A cambio de esta cantidad, la BP logra maquillar de verde su imagen gracias a su relación con la Tate.

A continuación una entrevista con Hannah Davey, del colectivo activista Liberate Tate y Kevin Smith, de Platform sobre la ética del patrocinio corporativo y si el arte y la política pueden realmente separarse. :  

How and why does it matter that the Tate receives funding from BP?

Hannah: Well, Tate actually gets less than around 0.5% of its total annual income from BP. But BP gets huge amounts of exposure in return, a disproportionate amount you might say. For example, its logo appears all over Tate spaces while ‘The BP Walk Through British Art’ (the recent rehang at Tate Britain) actually features the oil giant’s name in its title. It’s a way for BP to launder its image – to make people think less about the environmental destruction it causes all over the world and instead about how altruistic it is. We think that Tate is worth a lot more than that – that our cultural institutions are important and precious and shouldn’t be used as a rag to wipe away dirt. Kevin: We’re at a critical point in how we address the climate crisis – it’s not just about changing lightbulbs and cycling to work; it’s about looking at the dynamics of institutional power and recognising what the blocks are to the systemic change that is so urgently needed. And one of the big blocks is the economic, political and cultural power of oil companies. If we want change and progress, we need to undermine the power base that those oil companies enjoy. That needs to happen on a number of fronts, but one of them is preventing them from getting the kudos and credibility that they don’t deserve through sponsoring cultural institutions.

What is worse: the Tate receiving this sort of funding or their refusal to disclose how much they actually receive?

Hannah: The fact that the figure is small isn’t even a secret – it’s calculated from figures in the public domain. In 2013, BP split £2million between Tate, the Royal Opera House, the British Museum and The National Portrait Gallery. So of course the detail of that figure is important, and it’s probably a quarter, but their refusal to disclose begs the question, what else is Tate hiding about its relationship with BP? Which is of course part of the inspiration behind our recent performance, Hidden Figures.

Kevin: They are both inter-related! If the sums of money are as small as we suspect (which is why we think Tate is fighting tooth and claw to keep it secret) then Tate has a lot more flexibility in choosing not to take the money – so it then reflects really badly on them if they are being actively associated with trashing the planet for tiny sums compared to their overall budget.

Do you find other corporate sponsors of the Tate problematic, such as the Bank of America, Deutsche Bank or Morgan Stanley?

Kevin: Corporate sponsorship in general is being pushed on the cultural sector as a salve for the draconian cuts to public spending that the arts have suffered along with other vital services. Many people are articulating the unacceptability of oil sponsorship in particular now because of an increasingly climate-conscious public waking up to the unpleasant reality of oil companies and their many environmental and human rights impacts. But all arts institutions should be developing critical ethical fundraising policies that allow them to proactively assess each individual sponsor, like Bank of America, and see if its congruent with their organisational values.

What is the relationship between art and ethics? Is it up to the funding organisation, the distributor, the collector, the museum or the artist to challenge old while setting new ethical standards? Or might morality be in conflict with or belonging to a different sphere than the production of artistic achievements?

Kevin: It is a normal expectation that all spheres of life, and all individuals in society should act ethically. So in this instance the funding organisation, the distributor, the collector, the museum and the artist should act ethically. This is especially the case in the face of climate change. To act in ways to limit our CO2 emissions requires us to act ethically, to act altruistically, on behalf of others in the long term rather than in our own direct interests in the short term.

There’s a long tradition of artists declaring the production of art, or the private live of the artist, to be outside the realm of standard, or ‘bourgeois’, ethical life. However the scale of the impacts of climate change, both already underway and in the future, lend a perspective on this tradition that calls it into question. For the artist to claim that issues such as the relationship between their work and the production or oil and gas, the driving forward the emissions of CO2, is no concern of theirs is effectively to side with the continuation with these processes. To make this choice, even by default, is to take an act which has profound ecological and social – and therefore ethical – implications.

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Who funds the arts and why we should care

As the arts increasingly depend on private and corporate funding, questions arise about how closely artists and institutions should examine the sources of finance

Anyone passing through Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall one recent Saturday might have witnessed an unscheduled performance by a group of people writhing beneath a huge square of black cloth. Taking its motif from the Malevich exhibition at Tate, the event – entitled “Hidden Figures” – was designed to flag up the museum’s refusal to reveal details of its financial relationship with BP. It was the latest in a series of protests about the sponsorship of institutions – among them the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery – by the energy giant responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.

The protesters have been undeterred by the fact that the institutions have acted perfectly within the law, or that BP has been a generous and longstanding sponsor of the arts. Rather, such events are the tip of an iceberg of anger currently focused on a wide range of sponsorship, which in recent years has become an essential part of the infrastructure of the art world. In the past few weeks alone, the São Paulo Biennial dropped the logo of the Israeli Embassy after artists and curators complained. A week earlier, the Gwangju Bienniale’s president resigned and various artists withdrew after its financial backer, the city’s government, censored a work.

Both Manifesta in Russia and the Sydney Biennale have been hit by boycotts. Frieze Art Fair in New York ran into trouble for using non-unionised labour, and the organisation has now agreed to employ only unionised workers next year. Meanwhile, the labour conditions on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, which provoked an artists’ threatened boycott of museums being built there, including the Guggenheim and the Louvre, are still unresolved.

An anti-BP demonstration at Tate Britain in 2011

An anti-BP demonstration at Tate Britain in 2011

Governments, too, are stepping into the debate. Last month, Art Basel heard that a change in Swiss law might mean that it loses its sponsorship from cigar manufacturer Davidoff. (In the UK, tobacco companies are allowed to sponsor cultural and sporting events only if they use their company name rather than a brand of cigarettes.)

Art and patronage are ancient bedfellows and bursts of outrage are nothing new. But the sheer weight of discontent suggests we are reaching a tipping point. When the curators of the São Paulo Biennial wrote to the organisers in support of the artists’ objections, they declared that the Brazilian situation “should also be a trigger to think about funding sources of major cultural events”. In their opinion, “the sources of cultural funding have an increasingly dramatic impact on the supposedly ‘independent’ curatorial and artistic narrative of an event”.

The thrust of this argument is that art is compromised if the finance is unethical. “In the 31st biennial, much of the work seeks to show that struggles for justice in Brazil, Latin America and elsewhere in the world are connected,” the São Paulo curators continue. In other words, work will lose its integrity if it depends on support from those seen to be perpetuating problems.

The tensions extend beyond geopolitics. “Creativity has become . . .instrumentalised both by capitalism and the nation state,” says São Paulo curator Charles Esche. In some countries, once-generous state subsidies have been swept away. In others, they never existed. Whatever the history, art’s paymasters will always have their own agenda. “During the cold war, institutions were representing that conflict in their programming,” says Esche of a period when state funding was far more beneficent in northern Europe.

Climate activists at the launch of the BP Portrait Award in 2011

Climate activists at the launch of the BP Portrait Award in 2011

Now, the growing dependence on private funding is igniting new concerns. “The corporate ethos has permeated deeply into museum culture,” says Professor Julian Stallabrass of the Courtauld Institute of Art, who has written extensively on the pact between commerce and culture. “The brand permeates everything, from the products in the shop to the designer uniform of the staff.”

Like the São Paulo curators, Stallabrass points out that the tension between content and context creates a paradox. “Much avant-garde and contemporary art is actively hostile towards capitalism. If an artist who is critiquing corporate power is presented as part of this branded apparatus, the work is being betrayed quite fundamentally.” Equally, when an institution or an event is being sustained through, say, exploitative labour practices, certain artists are going to question the ethics of their own participation there.

Curators are questioning whether dependence on private benefactors exacts too high a price. Emily Pethick, of the Showroom, a London-based, not-for-profit space that specialises in emerging and experimental artists, says: “Previously, when I was working in the Netherlands where we had a much higher subsidy, we could speculate and take more risks.”

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Activists Challenge BP’s Secret Sponsorship of the Arts

Tate redactedA three year battle by activists to find out more details of BP’s secretive sponsorship deal with Britain’s iconic art institution, the Tate, will finally be resolved on Thursday this week.

For years activists have been trying to uncover the amount and details of BP’s sponsorship deals with the Tate. They have done this by using British Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

The activists, from the environment arts group, Platform London, working with the Request Initiative, have been trying to find out how much money the Tate had received in sponsorship from BP, as well as see copies of minutes between the Tate and BP where the renewal of the oil giant’s sponsorship agreement had been discussed and ultimately approved.

While campaigners have used existing information in the public domain to estimate that the amount Tate receives from BP only a paltry 0.4% of Tate’s overall operating budget, the exact figure remains unknown.

In return for this amount, BP gets to greenwash its image and achieve institutional buy-in to the Tate’s global brand.

The arts institution has seen numerous recent protests against BP’s sponsorship of its work, not least last week when over 100 members of the arts collective Liberate Tate unfurled a 64 metre square black cloth, a reinterpretation of Russian abstract painter Kazimir Malevich’s iconic Black Squarewhich is currently on display as part of the Malevich exhibition at Tate Modern.

The implicit comparison was made between Malevich’s Black square and Tate’s use of black squares in redacting information.

The Tate is extremely reluctant to disclose the exact nature of its funding from BP. After receiving an FOI request, the Tate refused to give out this information. This led to an appeal by Platform and the Request Initiative to the official body in the UK that oversees such matters, the Information Commission.

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