Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Cost-cutting and Petitions at London Art Galleries

Did you know a five-day strike is planned at the National Gallery?  There's also a petition suggesting that the public should say 'No to privatisation of the National Gallery' (see below).

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has called for a five day strike from Tuesday 3 to Saturday 7 February.  Members at the Gallery had voted for industrial action after management proposed to externalise the staff who are the public face of the gallery - namely c.400 staff who provide security, visitor services and visitor engagement.

Union members are also protesting planned cuts in gallery assistants at Dulwich Picture Gallery (see below)

This post is about why cuts in expenditure are being made, what action staff are taking - and what I think about the proposals. I'm interested to know what you think - do please leave a comment at the end.

Context for the Cuts

The continued stranglehold on public sector expenditure caused by the bankers' exploits pre-2008 and the need to exert control over the economy continues to create a very tight grip of public expenditure.

This in turn means that all public service organisations in the UK are looking for cuts to enable them to continue to provide a service within current funding constraints.
The Gallery continues to face significant and sustained cuts to grant-in-aid over the coming years National Gallery - Finance
The National Gallery's perspective is that it wants more
“more flexibility to meet the changing expectations of our visitors in an environment where our income is decreasing”.
Frankly, my perspective is that I find it very odd that:
  • on the one hand the Galleries have to go cap in hand to the banks for sponsorship monies which help them provide an effective service and ace exhibitions
  • at the same time as their grant-in-aid is being limited by a government still trying to control an economy lacerated by the very stupid actions of some of the banks prior to 2008!
It's not an easy situation for any manager, however as an ex-senior manager in public service I well understand the need to make changes which seek to preserve the outcomes (ie the service offered) as opposed to the means (ie the out-dated terms and conditions of existing staff).

National Gallery and the PCS union

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square

The National Gallery is an interesting case. So far as I am aware:
  • The PCS Union has had a long-running battle with the Gallery's management for years and years in relation to the terms and conditions of staff who are members of the PCS 
  • The PCS is totally inflexible to negotiation about making changes for modern practices. 
In fact I'd go so far as to say the National Gallery is probably one of the few places left in the UK where the union is running the show.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Art from Auschwitz

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. One of the very important functions of art is to record important life events and events in history.

This post is about art produced by Auschwitz survivors and others who want to record this episode in world history. We're all used to the term "history paintings". Below I'd like to introduce you to some of the art which also survives. What follows is a mix of links to articles talking about art from Auschwitz and artwork which is archived on the website of the Museum at Auschwitz.
To gas
Pencil, paper, 13,5 x 19,5 cm, KL Auschwitz 1942-44.
Collections of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Transport arriving at the unloading ramp
Pencil, crayons, paper, 13,5 x 19,5 cm, KL Auschwitz 1942-44
Collections of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Pencil, crayons, paper, 13,5 x 19,5 cm, KL Auschwitz 1942-44. Z
Collections of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Pushing chairs
Black watercolours, cardboard, 13 x 20.8 cm, Paris 1945. 

Collections of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
  • The art of Jan Komski - a survivor of Auschwitz. He has produced drawings and paintings after his liberation of his memories of what it was like.
A portrait of Géza Schein
Pencil, paper, 14,5 x 10,5 cm, KL Jawischowitz 1944.
Collections of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Watercolours, cardboard, Indian ink, 15 x 11,3 cm, KL Auschwitz 1944. 
Collections of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

and finally.....

  • Young artist and illustrator Gideon Summerfield has been working on a new project of creating pencil portraits of Holocaust Survivors called The Legacy of Survival which he complted in time for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps.
'THE LEGACY OF SURVIVAL' is a new project based on a set of portraits which feature Holocaust survivors with their children or grandchildren. For many years, a number of survivors did not talk to their families about their horrific experiences. The younger generation now know a great deal about what happened but as the years go by, the survivors will not be present to share their stories and it will fall to the next generation and their children to keep the memory alive.
COPYRIGHT: All images are from the Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau. Material belonging to the Museum may be used free of charge exclusively for non-commercial and strictly educational purposes, on the condition that its source is indicated in the following form: “”.
An additional condition to which there are absolutely no exceptions is that this material may be used only in undertakings and projects that do not impugn or violate the good name of the victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tate's BP funding figures revealed - less than expected

Today the Tate was forced to reveal the extent of its sponsorship by BP. Some, like me, were left thinking that its reluctance to reveal the figures was due to fact it was so very much less than people had anticipated.  How cheaply a prestige venue has been bought!

Below I explore the case for sponsorship and why it happens, why there has been an issue about BP's sponsorship

Tate Britain

Sponsorship of the Arts

Sponsorship of the Arts occurs because:
  • individuals genuinely have an enthusiasm for the arts and are well endowed enough to pass on some of their wealth
  • some people like the arts but they like having their name on things even more
  • companies know that their brand is enhanced if it is associated with a prestigious name.
My personal position is that I am all for the sponsorship of the arts so long as the organisations being sponsored extract as much as possible from those who know that their association with an art gallery or museum will enhance their brand and business.

Indeed I regard it as essential that any Director of an art gallery or museum knows the value of its brand and does not give away the chance to be associated with it too easily or too cheaply!

Why is there an issue about BP's sponsorship of the Arts

I'll state my case up front. I really am not in the least bit bothered by BP's sponsorship of art galleries and museums. I'm far more concerned about:
  • fossil fuel companies behaving in a social responsible manner 
  • those trying to repair their reputation paying a fair price to society for the privilege of being associated with a prestigious art gallery or museum which only exists due to generous state support.
Of course I'd rather that energy sources came from renewable sources. However until somebody makes energy consumption from non-fossil fuel a cost effective and efficient proposition for most of the companies and families in the UK (and elsewhere) I don't see much alternative to the continued use of fossil fuels.

That in turn means oil companies will be looking for ways of sanitising their image - and offers a wonderful opportunity for sponsorship - so long as this is at the right price.
Tate is driven by our charitable mission to promote public understanding and enjoyment of British, modern and contemporary art. We could not achieve this without corporate support.  Corporate social responsibility page of the Tate website
In seeking to attract corporate donations and funding agreements, the Tate has to act in the context of its Ethics Policy which means that it needs to consider whether it should accept funds if they
  • Harm Tate’s relationship with other benefactors, partners, visitors or stakeholders;
  • Create unacceptable conflicts of interest;
  • Materially damage the reputation of Tate; or,
  • Detrimentally affect the ability of Tate to fulfil its mission in any other way than is mentioned above.  
I do wonder just how many people are genuinely concerned about BP's sponsorship of the Museum. I recognise the activists are but if the gallery visiting general public were offered better accessibility to art vs give up the sponsorship I wonder which they would choose.

The Freedom of Information Request

An application was made in 2012 by Glen Tarman, an environmental campaigner and an art collective called Liberate Tate using the Freedom of Information Act for the disclosure of the annual
amounts of BP’s sponsorship of Tate over the 23-year period preceding 2012.
Liberate Tate is a network dedicated to taking creative disobedience against Tate until it drops its oil company funding. The network was founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate.
Tate dragged its feet and came up with all sorts of reasons why it should not be made to disclose the figures. It ended up in court.
Tate also admitted to the court that it feared “protests might intensify” if the raw facts of the deal were revealed and that this would present a risk to health and safety, but the Tribunal were “wholly unpersuaded” by this argument. 
Arts Professional - Tate ordered to disclose details of BP sponsorship
On 22nd December the Information Tribunal ruled that the Tate must disclose the BP sponsorship figures from 1990 to 2006 inclusive in the next 35 days - and today was the deadline.  (This is a copy of the Information Tribunal's decision)

Why any public relations function thinks that releasing the figures on the very last day it has to makes an institution look good is quite beyond me! It speaks of 'dragging feet' and 'recalcitrant schoolboys'.

Ar last - the figures!

Anyway, what the figures revealed (and here I have to rely on newspaper reports as the Tate has not deigned to issue a press release!) was that corporate sponsorship funding from BP was
  • c.£150k pa prior to 2000 
  • around £330k pa between 2002 and 2007
  • I took a look at the published Annual Accounts and the latter figures represent approximately 1.8% of the current Annual Income in 2013/14 relating to Consolidated Funds of £178 million (Annual Accounts 2013-14)
I think most people, including me, were expecting rather more given the fuss made about the sponsorship.

There again maybe the fuss about the sponsorship has imbued it with far more importance and status than in fact it was due. It needs to be recognised that the Tate has a very wide ranging set of partnerships and collaborations with corporate sponsors and Patrons - and BP just happens to be one of them.

I also think it's possible that maybe Art Gallery Directors would do well to research the funding figures involved in other sponsorship deals involving other areas of the economy and other prestigious venues. As it happens I used to know know the level of figures involved in some of them and they are way in excess of what BP has been providing to the Tate - although I do understand the BP strategic approach to funding the Arts has been to spread its largesse around.

Comment in the news

Below are the articles which highlighted the issues relating to BP's sponsorship of the Tate published today and previously.

My vote is with The Art Newspaper!

The objective of the release of the information today should not be to say how easy it would be to give up. Quite the reverse - it makes the case for saying there should be an awful lot more funding required to get a corporate sponsor's name on exhibition banners outside a prestige gallery.  

I want Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate to explain how come BP has provided so little funding for the Tate. Far from the Tate giving it up - I want to see the exposure of the funding provided to provide a stimulus to upping the ante and him going back for more!

Also I think it art museums and galleries need to think very carefully about making corporate sponsorship funding completely open and transparent in their accounts. I don't think this is appropriate for private individuals - but I do think corporate sponsorship of state funded galleries and museums by major corporations and banks should be completely open.

Today's articles

Note that other than the Art Press only one national newspaper picked up the story.

Previous articles


Part of the demonstration outside the National Portrait Gallery
22 June 2010

I witnessed part of the demonstration which took place outside the National Portrait Gallery on the evening of the BP Portrait Award ceremony in June 2010. This came after right after the awful disaster in the Deep Water Horison Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010

I much prefer the National Portrait Gallery's approach which has seen BP's sponsorship of the Portrait Award, based at the gallery, contribute very significantly to the stimulation of overall visitor numbers over the period of the exhibition (over a period of some 3 months in the summer) and the resulting elevation of the status of the NPG on the world stage.

That seems to me to be a very intelligent use of sponsorship.

At the end of the day, in relation to the Tate, I keep being reminded of the old adage "no publicity is bad publicity" and wonder whether the protestors have rather shot themselves in the foot.  Far from making a case for BP's sponsorship to be eliminated, I think they may well have made a much better case for it to be increased.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Plagiarise at your peril - the Luc Tuymans case

Luc Tuymans was found guilty of plagiarism by a Belgian Court last week. This post examines:
  • the facts and reporting of the case
  • the copying of photographs by artists; and 
  • the use of 'parody' as an exception from the law on copyright in the European Union
  • the importance of country in relation to copyright
  • a key issue relating to freedom of expression and appropriation art; and 
  • an upcoming exhibition by Luc Tuymans in London.

The Tuymans Case 

the article in a Belgian newspaper
De Morgen about the case

Luc Tuymens has been found guilty of plagiarism. 

The Belgian painter is prominent in the contemporary art world (Tate, MOMADavid Zwirmer). He was taken to court by a female photographer Katrijn Van Giel.
  • He had very clearly used her 2010 photograph of politician Jean-Marie Dedecker as a reference for a painting completed in 2011 - A Belgian Politician (2011) - without her consent and without a licence.
  • He lost his case at the civil court in Antwerp. 
  • The Belgian daily, De Morgen, reports that a fine of €500,000 (£384,000 / $580,000) was identified. What's not entirely clear (translation issues!) is whether this relates to any more ‘reproductions’ of Van Giel’s work or whether it relates to whether and where the painting can be exhibited and, consequently, the legal and geographical boundaries of this judgement.  
  • I don't know what sort of award if any award was made to Ms van Giel for the infringement of her copyright. My understanding is that the current state of play is that there is to be a further ruling on whether Tuymans owes Van Giel damages for the plagiarism.  I understand she was asking for an award of $50,000 damages.
  • The painting in question was bought by the American art collector Eric Lefkofsky and can now only be seen online within the context of the many news reports of this case.
  • An appeal against the decision is planned by the artist according to newspaper reports.

Coverage in the press

There have been quite a few articles as a result - but I think some of them are missing the point.
Her lawyer, Dieter Delarue, said that after she discovered the portrait in a catalog she tried for more than a year to discuss it with the artist, who never responded to letters. “When you are a movie producer, if you want to make something based on a book, you contact the author,” Mr. Delarue said. “It’s not so difficult. All artists do that except that Mr. Tuymans feels that this five-minute phone call somehow limits his freedom of expression.” New York Times
The court furthermore considered that Tuymans in bad faith had acted as he himself had stated earlier that the photo of Van Giel was a strong image, which he did not have to change much on. De Morgen
This is the article in the specialist plagiarism blog PlagiarismTodayArtist Luc Tuymans Loses Plagiarism Case, Raises Questions

The overall conclusion is that
  • Tuymans clearly used the photograph but did not have permission to do so - and would not enter into any dialogue with the photographer
  • the court was very clear that his legal argument of 'parody' had no merit, 
  • not all commentators agree with the court - but might well be arguing from an artistic perspective rather than a legal one
  • this case might not be over - there is to be an appeal
  • It might come to represent important case law for other photographers in the EU taking similar action in similar circumstances.

An invitation for other photographers to inspect his back catalogue?

To my mind, the decision in this case in effect calls into question a considerable body of work created from an unlicensed use of a photograph - by Tuymans AND OTHERS.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Holbein: Eye of the Tudors" - Waldemar Januszczak's Culture Show Special tonight

Tonight Holbein: Eye of the Tudors  - Waldemar Januszczak's programme about Holbein - airs on BBC2 tonight at 9pm. It looks at the life and work of Holbein, how he came to paint King Henry VIII and the Tudor Court and the secrets of his paintings.

The BBC has published an article about Holbein on its website Dark arts: Holbein and the court of Henry VIII

[Note: I've removed the BBC video clip - it was coded to open automatically and was driving me crazy every time I opened my blog!]

Here are links to video clips from the programme:

More information about Holbein

Hans Holbein d. J. - Portrait of Thomas Cromwell - WGA11548
Portrait of Thomas Cromwell - painted by Han Holbein

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...