Tate trustee reignites BP row ahead of Turner Prize

Patrick Brill brands oil company "a disgrace", as campaign groups call for end of sponsorship deal

Rob Sharp
Monday 28 November 2011 01:00 GMT

One of the Tate galleries' top officials has broken ranks to criticise the organisation's sponsorship deal with BP, calling the oil company "a disgrace" for its environmental record.

Patrick Brill, who goes by the pseudonym Bob and Roberta Smith, is one of 13 trustees who oversee the organisation's acquisitions and strategies. He features in a report on the subject, co-published this week by campaign groups Liberate Tate, Art Not Oil and Platform.

The publication, Not If But When: Culture Beyond Oil, comes days before the announcement of the winner of the Turner Prize, one of the most high-profile platforms for contemporary art, which the Tate organises.

"[BP] is going to dig up the Arctic," says Mr Brill in the report. "It's sucking up oil from tar sands. We should have a moratorium on the seas and stop deep drilling. When activists protest at, for example, events like the Tate summer party, that is a thoroughly good thing. It allows me to say: BPis a disgrace."

Liberate Tate made headlines in April when some of its members entered Tate Britain and used BP-branded petrol cans to pour an oil-like liquid over a naked demonstrator . The activists were protesting against the impact of BP's oil sands project in Canada, its exploration of the Arctic and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The Tate refuses to reveal the exact sum it receives from BP each year, but the oil company is known to spend more than £1m a year sponsoring major UK arts institutions.

"The relationship of BP and Tate is nuanced and complex and full of contradictions," said Mr Brill. "I am critical of BP and yet I sit on the Tate board. I'm on that board because I believe in the power of art. Art is important; yet art is under threat. That is why I sit on that board. I will not leave the board because of protests about BP, but these protests are important."

Liberate Tate says it has amassed 8,000 signatures on a letter asking Tate to "disengage from BP as a sponsor". Platform spokesman Kevin Smith said: "We can't pretend arts funding exists in an ethical vacuum. Given BP's growing list of controversial operations, from the Deepwater Horizon disaster to tar sands extraction, it's time for Tate to look for sponsorship that's more in line with its rhetoric on human rights and sustainability."

Responding to the campaigners' previous criticisms, Tate Britain said BP was "one of the most important sponsors of the arts in the UK, supporting Tate as well as several other leading cultural institutions". It added that all its donors had to comply with an ethics policy. "BP has worked with Tate since 1990, and fits within the guidelines of this policy," it said.

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