July 2, 2010 Leave a comment
The protests against BP sponsorship of Tate could become interesting if they deepened into a long-term campaign against private money. Stephen Bayley in the Daily Telegraph today has correctly pointed to the ‘dirty’ uses to which many sponsors do now or have in the past put their money, although he tries to draw an equivalence, I think wrongly, between private and public funds for arts funding. But the current protest does not seem to be a protest against corporate interests as such – it is a protest only against the oil leak, and its choregraphed elements feel – dare one say- corporate and slick (pun intended) in an unreflecting and non-ironic way.
Personally I am not, in principle, against either private sponsorship or against what are often magnificent corporate collections of art, particularly if such collections are displayed to the public, as German companies and banks often do. Big companies are big companies and do big company-style things. What I have found dismaying – something the current protesters do not address – is the extent to which the national British arts institutions themselves have over the years begun to resemble big corporations, a phenomenon that accelerated during the New Labour years as big business was embraced on all sides – and internally as well.
It is interesting that many of the 174 signatories of the recent Guardian letter appear to be relatively unknown artists and arts activists (Hans Haacke is an exception), whereas the well-established British artists yesterday interviewed in Guardian G2 acknowledged the importance of private sponsorship, if somewhat grudgingly.
What then is going on here? Do the protesters represent a new revolt against the market-orientated Thatcher generation, or is it just that younger artists/activists have nothing to lose, are simply getting into the mix, and will become themselves more conservative later – if indeed they are not so already? Is this protest then an all too thought-out and predictable activism which will be used as a launch-pad to a future artistic career, or do we see the beginnings of something deeper?
Contrast the perhaps overly choreographed Tate goings on with the ramshackle peace camp in Parliament Square, full of people who are not only passionate in their beliefs but are living them as well. The peace camp also contains middle class people but it is difficult to imagine much connection between them and the style conscious Tate protesters.
Boris Johnson is getting rid of Democracy Village in part because he thinks it attracts ‘drunks and the homeless’, yet he and the Government could learn a thing or two from the camp about social inclusiveness, since it has taken these people into their society in a way that, on a larger scale, successive governments have signally failed to do.