For immediate release 15 October 2012
Art collective raises questions over John Browne’s conflict of interest as ex BP CEO
Tate Trustees have decided not to accept ‘The Gift’, a 16.5m wind turbine blade, as part of its permanent art collection.
‘The Gift’ was installed in Tate Turbine Hall in an unofficial performance on 7 July, involving over 100 members of Liberate Tate, the group that has made headlines for dramatic artworks relating to the relationship of public cultural institutions with oil companies.
The artists submitted official documentation (see below) for the artwork to be a gift to the nation ‘given for the benefit of the public’ under the provisions of the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, the Act from which Tate’s mission is drawn.
The refusal of the offer comes despite the fact that more than a thousand people signed a petition started by a Tate member calling on Nicholas Serota and the Tate board to accept the artwork and return the blade to the Turbine Hall for public viewing.
Informing Liberate Tate of its decision, Tate stated the reason being that: “in line with the current strategy, commitments and priorities for the Collection and the size of the object in relation to existing pressures on collection care – the offer of The Gift is declined.”
Giving Liberate Tate 7 working days’ notice, Tate also said that if the art collective did not respond by 16 October, it would “recycle” the artwork.
Today, 15 October, Liberate Tate has responded asking Nicholas Serota questions including:
Whether Tate chair Lord Browne (and ex BP CEO) chaired the agenda item when Tate Trustees considered The Gift.
Whether Tate Trustees considered The Gift within the context of the Tate Sustainability Strategy it has agreed.
(The full version of Liberate Tate’s response can be found in the Notes).The decision comes at a time when controversial art sponsors have again been in the news. Last week the National Gallery announced that its sponsorship agreement with arms dealer Finmeccanica was ending a year early following on from protests and public pressure.
Sharon Palmer from Liberate Tate said:
“We are not disappointed for us as artists – our future work will continue to be seen at Tate as long as BP is supported by Tate, although we would welcome an early end to our practice – but we are disappointed for what this decision says about the present nature of the institution that is Tate.”
“Recent studies have shown that BP sponsorship of the Olympics managed to improve the public perception of the company, despite the fact that they are continuing to devastate the climate and are pushing ahead with devastating tar sands extraction and arctic drilling. Tate’s relationship with BP is fulfilling the same function in actively helping the oil giant to avoid accountability for countless destructive activities. The Gift is an artwork that celebrates the possibility of real change – for Tate as much for everyone else facing the challenges of the climate crisis.”
The Gift is Liberate Tate’s fourth artwork in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall.
Pictures and footage of the performance of The Gift are available for media from http://www.flickr.com/photos/toastyoneuk/sets/72157630466036976/with/7521674822/
Photos must be credited to Martin LeSanto-Smith
A video of the performance can be watched at http://www.vice.com/en_uk/vice-news/liberate-tates-the-gift-tate-modern-art-prank-bp
For comment, information or images email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07847 830164
*** ENDS ****
Notes to editors
Gift to the Nation: Letter to Tate 7 July 2012
Liberate Tate Communique #3 The Gift 7 July 2012
Communication from Nicholas Serota sent to Liberate Tate 5 October 2012
Letter from Liberate Tate to Nicholas Serota, 15 October 2012
1. Liberate Tate (www.liberatetate.org) is an art collective exploring the role of creative intervention in social change dedicated to taking creative disobedience against Tate until it drops its oil company funding. Contact: mailto:email@example.com twitter www.twitter.com/liberatetate / @liberatetate blog https://liberatetate.wordpress.com/.
2. The 7 July 2012 wind turbine blade performance of Liberate Tate follows earlier self-curated performances at Tate by the art collective including:
* ‘Floe Piece’: A 55kg chunk of Arctic ice is taken from the Occupy London protest camp at St Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames into the Tate Modern Turbine Hall (January2012).
* ‘Human Cost’: a performance in Tate Britain on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion (April 2011) when a naked member of the group had an oil-like substance poured over them on the floor in the exhibition Single Form dedicated to the human body and part of ‘BP British Art Displays’.
* ‘Dead in the water’: a contribution to Tate Modern 10th Birthday celebrations (May 2010) by hanging dead fish and birds from giant black helium balloons in the Turbine Hall.
‘License to spill’: an oil spill at the Tate Summer Party celebrating 20 years of BP support (June 2010).
‘Crude/Sunflower’: an installation artwork which saw over 30 members of the collective draw a giant sunflower in the Turbine Hall with black oil paint bursting from BP-branded tubes of paint (September 2010).
3. Liberate Tate’s ‘The Gift’ is a gift to the nation ‘given for the benefit of the public’ under the provisions of the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, the Act from which Tate’s mission is drawn. See also Gift to the Nation: Letter to Tate below.
4. Tate Modern is housed in the former Bankside Power Station designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The Tate Modern Turbine Hall was a space where oil was once burnt to light London. In July 2012 the Oil Tanks opened as a new space at Tate Modern in what were originally huge industrial chambers containing oil that fuelled the power station until it was decommissioned in 1981.
5. This year Tate confirmed in a reply to a Freedom of Information Act request that it has received more representations raising concerns about BP’s sponsorship than any other issue since the oil company became linked with the gallery in 1990. Thousands have called in the last year alone for Tate to disengage from BP due to the devastating impacts of the company around the world to ecosystems, communities and the climate. For example, over 8,000 people signed an Open Letter to Nicholas Serota about BP (online here https://liberatetate.wordpress.com/open-letter-to-nicholas-serota/).
6. Tate Sustainability Strategy released by Liberate Tate is here: https://liberatetate.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/tates-sustainability-strategy/.
7. For more on oil and arts sponsorship see the recent publication by Liberate Tate, Platform and Art Not Oil, ‘Not If But When: Culture Beyond Oil’ available to read online here: http://platformlondon.org/p-publications/culutr/
Gift to the Nation: Letter to Tate
Dear Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, and the Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery,
We, Liberate Tate, make a gift of the artwork specified below to the Tate Gallery to become its permanent property.
Artist: Liberate Tate
Title: The Gift
Medium: Performance (wind-turbine blade, communiqué and performance documentation, including photographic records and video documentation)
Date: 7 July 2012
1. Exhibition of The Gift should include all elements of the artwork: the wind turbine blade, communiqué and performance documentation.
2. We gift this artwork with the intention of increasing the public’s understanding and enjoyment of contemporary art.
3. We understand that the material we are giving shall be available to curators and researchers as part of the Tate Gallery’s public collection.
4. Being the sole owner of the material, we give this material (and any additions which we may make to it) unencumbered to the Tate Gallery.
Date: 7 July 2012
Liberate Tate Communique #3 The Gift
“It is easy to see,” replied Don Quixote, “that thou art not used to this business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat.”
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
There may not be much to celebrate these days, but we have given you a gift anyway. This is perhaps the largest present you have ever received, the most unexpected and the most disobedient, the strangest and the hardest to get rid of. What we have given you is a new work of art, which like all the best works is wrapped in the selflessness of creativity, an act of gratitude that keeps on giving.
Despite recent reports that our biosphere is approaching a ‘tipping point’ where ecosystems are close to a sudden and irreversible change that could extinguish human life; despite years of creative protest and thousands of signatories petitioning Tate to clean up its image and let go of its relationship with a company that is fuelling catastrophe; despite all these things, Tate continue to promote the burning of fossil fuels by taking the poisoned ‘gift’ of funding from BP. This is why today we have given you something you could not refuse.
The law of this island requires that all “gifts to the nation”, donations of art from the people, be considered as works for public museums. Consider this one judiciously. We think that it is a work that will fit elegantly in the Tate collection, a work that celebrates a future that gives rather than takes away, a gentle whispering solution, a monument to a world in transition.
‘The Gift’, weighing one and a half tonnes, has been moved hundreds of miles from a Welsh valley, lovingly prepared and carried by hand by hundreds of people across London to be deposited in the Turbine Hall, a space where oil was once burnt to light this city. The journey of ‘The Gift’ bears witness to an epic of cooperation and points to a time beyond fossil fuels.
Resting on the floor of your museum, it might resemble the bones of a leviathan monster washed up from the salty depths, a suitable metaphor for the deep arctic drilling that BP is profiting from now that the ice is melting. But it is not animal, nor is it dead, it is a living relic from a future that is aching to become the present. It is part of a magic machine, a tool of transformation, a grateful giant.
What we have brought you is the blade of an old wind turbine, sixteen and a half metres long, beautifully sharpened by the weather. It is a blade to cut the unhealthy umbilical cord that connects culture with oil, a blade that reminds us that when crisis comes, when the winds blow strong, the best thing to do is not to build another wall but raise a windmill…
Yours, in gratitude,
Communication from Nicholas Serota sent to Liberate Tate 5 October 2012
Dear Liberate Tate,
I am writing to you following my email dated 11 July 2012. In that email, I described the process for responding to all potential acquisitions, whether offered as a gift or for purchase, through which offers are presented to out trustees for their consideration either through the Collections Committee, which has delegated authority from the board to decide upon acquisitions, or at the Board itself when there is no Collections Committee scheduled within a time during which a response might reasonably be expected. On this occasion, the Collections Committee is not scheduled to meet until later in the autumn and so your proposal was taken to the Board in September.
As Tate’s process requires, the proposal was first discussed by Tate’s internal Collections Group, which recommended to the Board that – in line with the current strategy, commitments and priorities for the Collection and the size of the object in relations to existing pressures on collection care – the offer of The Gift is declined, but that supporting material comprising performance documentation and related images, be accepted into Tate’s archive as a record of the action at Tate Modern. The Board discussed this recommendation and formally agreed to adopt it as the Board’s decision.
The Blade will therefore be made available for you to collect from a storage facility in London between 2 October to 16 October. If you wish to collect the item, please let us know by contacting [name of Acquisitions Coordinator] at Tate Britain, and we will confirm with you the details of the collection point. If you do not wish to collect the item, or Tate does not hear from you before 16 October we will make arrangements for the item to be recycled.
Thanks you for making available the extensive documentation of your action which will now be available to scholars in our Archive.
Letter from Liberate Tate to Nicholas Serota, 15 October 2012
Director, TateThank you for your communication dated 25 September 2012, which was sent to Liberate Tate on 5 October.We require clarification of the process which has led to the decision by Tate Trustees. In particular, amongst other facts, we need to establish:i. Whether Tate chair Lord Browne chaired the agenda item when Tate Trustees considered The Gift.While no-one questions Lord Browne’s passion for the arts and that he has chaired Tate through a period of notable successes, questions remain about Tate decision-making when it relates to BP. Such decisions are a reflection, in part, on decisions made whilst Browne was still at the helm of the oil company.Answers to Freedom of Information Act requests shows that Lord Browne has not stepped aside to date when BP sponsorship is under discussion by the Tate governing body.
Given this work references BP, was Lord Browne part of this decision?
ii. Whether Tate Trustees considered The Gift within the context of the Tate Sustainability Strategy it has agreed.
In declining The Gift Tate says that the work is not in line with the current strategy. Yet the Trustees have an agreed policy of working with artists and audiences to inspire new thinking around sustainability and Tate is committed “to find appropriate and imaginative ways to reflect the responses and commitment of artists [that] engage with environmental issues in their work and have chosen to be vocal in public debate … to maximise the potential for public engagement and discussion through art”. Clearly, The Gift meets the public criteria of this strategy.
In what way did Tate Trustees see The Gift as not fulfilling its own strategy and did Tate assess The Gift in the light of the policy in the Tate Sustainability Strategy?
iii. Whether Tate Trustees have also agreed a Size Strategy.
It would be a matter of some wider concern if Tate was declining offers due to size.
If Tate will not accept The Gift in part because of its size and pressure on care for the collection, is Tate not able to take any ‘big’ art?
iv. Whether Tate Trustees considered The Gift as art.
In your response, you refer to Liberate Tate’s The Gift as an ‘action’. It suggests that in your decision-making you did not consider the work as art.
If this suggestion is a correct understanding of your inference, please explain: how does Liberate Tate’s latest piece deviates from current formal definitions of art?
These are just four of the questions that need to be answered to understand whether a valid process has taken place.
Furthermore, we are in the process of submitting a Freedom of Information (FoI) request regarding the minutes of the 19 September meeting at which this decision was made and paper(s) sent to the Board about The Gift. Additionally we would welcome a copy of the notes from the meeting of the Tate internal Collections Group discussions of The Gift. We’d be grateful if you could forward these documents to us in advance. This will cut down on both of our later administration and speed up the process – for us and other stakeholders – to determine whether due and proper process has been applied.
We look forward to your reply and having the information requested supplied as soon as possible.