Activists Occupy Tate Modern Museum to Protest ‘Oil Money’ Ties to British Petroleum

In a new frontier for museum disputes, this sit-in over corporate sponsorship turned into a sleepover

Tate Modern, as viewed from the Thames. (Courtesy: Wikipedia)
Tate Modern, as viewed from the Thames. (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Dozens of activists clad in black occupied the Tate Modern museum Saturday and Sunday to protest British Petroleum’s sponsorship of the institution.

According to the Guardian newspaper, which closely followed the action by a group dubbing itself “Liberate Tate”:

“The group spent 25 hours scrawling words of warning about climate change in charcoal on the sloping floor of the hall. They brought with them sleeping bags, food and even a toilet, which they placed behind a bamboo frame and curtain. …Thousands of visitors to the Tate filed past the protest on Saturday as if it was another work at the prestigious gallery, but on Sunday officials closed the Turbine Hall to the public.”

The protestors were eventually allowed to spend the night in the institution, perhaps Britain’s leading home of contemporary art, but left peacefully afterward, their graffiti remaining.

BP is a major sponsor of the Tate, donating about $250,000 annually to its programming.

In a highly critical ABC investigation of BP done shortly after the Gulf oil spill, the network concluded in 2010: “BP’s safety violations far outstrip its fellow oil companies.” In recent years, however, BP has said its performance has improved substantially.

Traditionally, banks, brokerage, liquor companies, auction houses and, in that industry’s heydey, tobacco companies, are often major sponsors of art museum exhibitions, and these ties have sometimes come under scrutiny. But oil companies, at least in the U.S. have largely not been pulled into such debates.

The Tate protestors identify themselves as a a group “raising issues around ethical funding choices,” they sell limited-edition artist prints to raise monies for its operations and they call their activities  “performances” and “appearances.”  The group’s logo is a tube of black oil-like paint with a BP green-starburst logo on it.

Liberate Tate notes, somewhat ironically, that “The network was founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate.”

Activists Occupy Tate Modern Museum to Protest ‘Oil Money’ Ties to British Petroleum