Tate decline offer of 16.5m wind turbine blade artwork

October 15, 2012
by phil
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Art collective raises questions over John Browne’s conflict of interest as ex BP CEO

Press release: 15 October 2012

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 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.
  • Whether Tate Trustees have also agreed a Size Strategy.
  • Whether Tate Trustees considered The Gift as art.

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.

Lib­er­ate Tate Com­mu­niqué #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

Dear Tate

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,

Lib­er­ate Tate

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