Just months after leading American photographer Nan Goldin threatened to turn down a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in protest of its ongoing financial relationship with the Sackler family, the London institution has found itself in the middle of yet more sponsorship-related strife.
The Guardian reports that this weekend gone, “a judge and several leading artists,” wrote to the NPG to cut their financial ties with BP. The oil company are long term bankrollers of the gallery’s annual – and prestigious – award for portraiture.
It was YBA bigwig Gary Hume who instigated this latest wave of criticism over the gallery’s ready acceptance of cash generated from an industry which sits at the heart of the ongoing crisis over climate change.
Directed to the NPG’s director Nicholas Cullinan, Hume describes being asked to judge this year’s competition as “a pleasure and a privilege,” before going onto note his discomfort with the continued choice of sponsor.
“The evidence that our planet is rapidly changing – sparking mass extinctions, rising sea levels, extreme weather and collapsing ecosystems – is undeniable,” Hume writes. “BP is actively exacerbating that crisis, with no plan to stop producing massive amounts of fossil fuels for decades to come.”
At pains to stress his awareness of how difficult finding adequate, long-term funding for art projects is in the 21st Century, Hume remains forthright when it comes to stating that “refusing to launder the oil industry’s image is a step that the art world now needs to take.”
Yesterday saw an octet of artists add their voice, with the publication of a separate letter also addressed to the gallery’s director.
“We write to you as former winners, shortlisted artists and exhibitors in the BP Portrait Award,” the note begins. A la Hume, the statement urges Cullinan directly to “show leadership by demonstrating what it means for a major cultural institution to not simply acknowledge the climate emergency, but to act accordingly,” imploring him to end the sponsorship with immediate effect.
The BP Portrait Award 2019 opens later this week (13 June) and will be running all the way to mid-October.