The Tate should take BP’s money—and ask for more

Article for the Art Newspaper on the ongoing furore over BP’s sponsorship of the arts and the legal case with Tate.

I argue that Tate should take the money from BP, and that the demands for transparency – in this case the demands that Tate publish the amounts of sponsorship and minutes from internal meetings – can harm the arts.


Last September, more than 100 members of the art collective Liberate Tate, founded in 2010, filed into the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, flung open a 64-metre square of black cloth, and held it aloft for two hours in a performance intended as a reinterpretation of Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square. This political protest made reference to the Tate’s use of black marks in redacting information in minutes from an internal meeting about its sponsorship deal with the energy company BP (formerly British Petroleum), which the gallery is being asked to disclose after legal action brought by the group.

It was one of a series of artistic responses accompanying a complex legal battle to compel the Tate to reveal details of its dealings with BP. Lasting nearly three years so far, the machinations have involved a Freedom of Information (FoI) request; a response to that request from the Tate; a complaint to the information commissioner that the response was not adequate; responses, called decision notices, from the information commission to the complaint, and an appeal against the decision notices.

The case reached a climax on 22 December, when a tribunal ruled that the museum must divulge sponsorship figures dating from 1990 to 2006; but also that the museum did not have to publish as much of the minutes as stated in one of the decision notices. In other words, some of the black squares might stay. The Tate has until 26 January to appeal against the decision.