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Oil spilled inside Tate Britain on Gulf of Mexico anniversary

(Photo by Amy Scaife:

20.4.11: Art activists stage performance against gallery links with BP

Art & Business: An Unhappy Marriage?

Full article on the Channel 4 News site

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Wednesday (20 April) artists from art activist group Liberate Tate are staging a performance in the Tate Britain on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.

A naked member of the group has had an oil-like substance poured over him by silent figures dressed in black and wearing veils, and is now lying in a foetal position on the floor in the middle of the exhibition Single Form. Dedicated to the human body, Single Form is one of a series of ‘BP British Art Displays’ staged throughout the galleries of Tate Britain.

Sandra Paige, a participant in the performance, said: “It’s astonishing that Nick Serota and other Tate executives can be so blind to the horrific social and environmental impacts that BP is responsible for around the world. From the destruction of fisherfolks’ livelihoods in the Gulf of Mexico, to the indigenous communities in Canada fearing for their very survival – the human cost of BP’s oil extraction is staggering.”

The intervention comes as pressure grows for the art institution to sever its links with the increasing controversial oil company. Earlier in the week, a public demonstration took place in the Tate Modern over its links with BP and in the Guardian today, 166 people who work in the arts including Naomi Klein, John Keane and Matthew Herbert published a letter urging the Tate “to demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable future by ending its sponsorship relationship with BP”.

Terry Taylor, one of the members of Liberate Tate said: “Many important cultural institutions have been the victim of the government’s cuts in arts funding recently. The fact that many organisations will be actively looking for new funding means that the debate around the ethics of corporate sponsorship is more important than ever. Oil companies like BP are responsible for environmental and social controversy all over the world, and we can’t let their sponsorship of institutions like Tate detract from that fact.”

In the last year BP has increased investment in dangerous tar sands extraction in Canada, it has been shown to be a key backer of Mubarak’s repressive regime in Egypt and to have broken international rules governing its human rights responsibilities, and it has attempted to commence drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Whilst BP destroys ecosystems, communities and the climate, it has also sought to silence the voices of its critics.

Despite numerous freedom of information requests, Tate refuses to disclose details of its arrangement with BP.

Terry Taylor of Liberate Tate said: “By refusing to disclose the extent of BP sponsorship, Tate is preventing the necessary public debate from taking place. It’s time it came clean about just how much dirty oil money is propping up public arts institutions.”

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(Photo by Amy Scaife:

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The letter signed in the Guardian today by 166 artists can be seen at

Liberate Tate is a network dedicated to taking creative disobedience against the Tate until it drops its oil company funding. The 20 April art activist performance follows earlier self-curated performances at Tate such as:

• ‘Dead in the water’: a contribution to Tate Modern’s 10th Birthday celebrations (May 2010) by hanging dead fish and birds from dozens of 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 art work 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) –

The network was founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate. When Tate curators tried to censor the workshop from making interventions against Tate sponsors, although none had been planned, participants decided to continue their work together beyond the workshop and set up Liberate Tate.

Liberate Tate believes Tate is propping up the image of BP whilst it is engaged in socially and ecologically destructive activities incompatible with Tate’s ethical guidelines and the gallery’s vision of with regard to sustainability and climate change. The BP relationship not only damages Tate’s reputation, its mission is undermined as a growing number of visitors to the Tate cannot enjoy great art without the art museum making them complicit in the human cost of creating climate chaos.

In 2010 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 ahead of Tate Modern’s expansion into its cleaned out underground oil tanks.

(Photo by Amy Scaife:

Check out Marketing Week on damage to BP's brand: