Oil Painting Protest over BP sponsorship in Tate Modern Turbine Hall

In what was perhaps the most politically charged artistic action ever to take place at the Tate Modern, yesterday a group of artists demonstrated against using public institutions to legitimize the business of fossil fuel industries such as BP. Should the Tate behave as a pawn to the highest bidder? Its ‘neutral’ stance conceals the privileges gained by those corporations with the cash to invest (no matter what kind of damage is done in the process of obtaining this cash). Our public institutions should not take money from the oil industry – just as they can no longer be funded by tobacco, these cosy alliances must come to an end.

PRESS RELEASE by Liberate Tate: Liberate Tate calls for footprint of art museum to be free from Big Oil

Tuesday (14 September) art activists from Liberate Tate staged a guerrilla art intervention in Tate Modern, covering the floor of the iconic Turbine Hall with dozens of litres of oil paint in protest at the museum taking sponsorship from BP.

The flash mob-style event was staged a day before a Tate Board of Trustees meeting. Liberate Tate are part of a growing public movement calling on Tate’s governing body to end its sponsorship agreement with the oil company. Tate’s Board of Trustees has decided to review the BP corporate sponsorship.

At 5pm, around 50 figures dressed in black entered the gallery each carrying a BP-branded oil paint tube. In a circle they placed the paint tubes on the floor and each stamped on one, spraying out dozens of litres of paint in a huge burst across the floor. The installation art work, ‘Crude’, was then signed ‘Liberate Tate’ and offered to Tate for its collection.

Blake Williams, a participant in the performance, said: “Ten years ago tobacco companies were seen as respectable partners for public institutions. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has brought home to an even wider public that the impact of big oil companies like BP on the environment and the global climate makes them equally unethical for an art museum, especially one that purports to demonstrate leadership in response to climate change.”

Tate’s latest annual report (2009/10), released this month, claims “sustainability is a prime consideration throughout Tate’s work”. Tate reduced its energy use and overall carbon emissions last year and makes much of its partnership with the Carbon Trust and that it was a founding signatory to the national 10:10 campaign, launched at Tate Modern, aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 10% in 2010.

Liberate Tate said: “Tate has so far chosen to take a very narrow view of its footprint in relation to climate change and to not yet take into account its formal relationship with Big Oil. At a time when arts institutions wish to demonstrate how central the arts are in bringing social benefits to all and thus deserving of strong public funding, the museum must accept responsibility for its full impact in society.”

“Tate has a sponsor in BP that is engaged in socially and ecologically destructive activities. This is incompatible with Tate’s ethical guidelines, its stated vision in regard to sustainability and climate change, and for maintaining Tate’s reputation. In addition, its mission is undermined if visitors to Tate galleries cannot enjoy great art without the museum making them complicit in creating climate chaos. We call on the governing body to recognise this and end Tate’s relationship with BP.”

Earlier this year Liberate Tate issued an open invitation for artists, art lovers and other concerned members of the public to act to ensure that Tate ends its oil sponsorship by the end of 2011 ahead of Tate Modern’s expansion into its cleaned out underground oil tanks.

“You don’t abandon your friends because they have a temporary difficulty.”
– Nicholas Serota, Tate Director

An oil spill is one thing. Destruction of entire ecosystems, massive human rights abuses and millions of deaths from climate change is another thing altogether. BP’s ‘difficulty’ is not temporary; it is fundamental. BP is a climate criminal – pushing our civilisation to the brink of destruction in pursuit of profit. Climate Change kills hundreds of thousands of people a year and will kill many more unless we act immediately and radically to stop it.

BP and the Tate should not be friends. It is long past time for the Tate to abandon BP and renounce its complicity in their crimes.

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