Tate – hardly a stranger to controversy – has this week come under attack from two artist groups, their criticisms centered around Tate Modern’s tenth anniversary celebration No Soul for Sale, which was held over the weekend of 14–16 May.
Making A Living, an anonymous organisation describing itself as ‘a discussion group of arts professionals currently active across the UK’, issued an open letter to the Tate challenging the museum’s treatment of artists during the ‘No Soul for Sale’ event.
The group write: ‘It has come to our attention that many participants are not being paid by Tate Modern for their efforts. In fact, most are self-funding their activities throughout the weekend. Tate describes this situation as a “spirit of reciprocal generosity between Tate and the contributors”. But at what point does expected generosity become a form of institutional exploitation? Once it becomes endemic within a large publicly funded art space?’
Arguing that ‘it is complacent for Tate to believe that their position is comparable to ground level arts activity’ and that it is ‘disingenuous’ for the museum to claim that this ‘spirit of reciprocal generosity’ is ‘somehow altruistic or philanthropic’, Making A Living go on to accuse Tate of not having paid artists ‘for some exhibitions, workshops and events, including last year’s Tate Triennial’, although no specific details are given in the letter.
They end their letter by calling on Tate ‘to make public its policy in regard to artists’ fees’.
A group calling itself Liberate Tate have also confronted the museum, distributing a communiqué during the anniversary weekend calling for the Tate to drop its sponsorship agreement with BP, whom they say are ‘creating the largest oil painting in the world’ following the recent spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In their communiqué Liberate Tate argue that ‘every time we step inside the museum Tate makes us complicit with acts that are harming people and creating environmental destruction and climate change, acts that will one day seem as archaic as the slave trade’. Josephine Buoys, a spokesperson for the group quoted in a press release publicizing Liberate Tate’s activities, says that ‘Tate scrubs clean BP’s public image with the detergent of cool progressive art’. The group state that ‘In March 2010, Tate Modern ran an eco-symposium, Rising to the Climate Change Challenge: Artists and Scientists Imagine Tomorrow’s World on the same day that Tate Britain was celebrating 20 years of BP sponsorship with one of its ‘BP Saturdays’. Incensed by this censorship and hypocrisy, participants in the symposium called for a vote: 80% of the audience agreed that BP sponsorship be dropped by 2012’. Liberate Tate call on the museum ‘to become a responsible, ethical and truly sustainable organisation for the 21st century and drop its sponsorship by oil companies.’