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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Tate is complicit in the creation of the largest oil painting in the world.

As the Tate Modern celebrates its 10th anniversary activists from Liberate Tate highlight its close relationship with the oily giant BP.

Written by Amelia Gregory

oil map - abi daker
Illustration to show the extent of the Deepwater Horizon oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico by Abigail Daker.

You know that huge oil slick? The really foul one currently creating environmental havoc across the Gulf of Mexico? Well, page you might well call this deathly stain the world’s largest work of corporate art – proudly brought to you by oil giant BP, health sponsor of the Tate.

In January this year The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination was asked to host a workshop at the Tate Modern on art and creative civil disobedience. They were not, medications however, allowed to stage any interventions which were not “commensurate with the Tate’s mission” and to make sure this did not happen the workshop was policed by curators.

Liberate Tate ROBIN BELL-2
Black helium balloons float up to the ceiling of the Tate Turbine Hall. Photography by Robin Bell.

In response to this it was decided to launch a new campaign group, Liberate Tate, with the intention of severing the Tate’s close relationship with climate-wrecking oil-guzzling corporate behemoth BP. A series of planned interventions got off to a flying start this weekend, when a series of art activists managed to join the 10th anniversary celebrations in the main turbine hall at Tate Modern, where they released dozens of black helium balloons that floated up to the ceiling. Attached to the balloons were dead fish and oily fake birds, a reminder that BP will never be able to greenwash its actions away through association with innovative art at the Tate. Sections of the No Soul for Sale event were closed down as employees desperately tried to burst the oil-bubble like balloons, which hung looming over the celebrations.

Liberate Tate ROBIN BELL
A dead fish on the Turbine Hall floor. Photography by Robin Bell.

As long as the Tate continues to accept sponsorship from BP, a company that pursues oil and money without care for its employees or the looming climate crisis, then its various galleries up and down the country can expect more creative visits from members of Liberate Tate. You can follow Liberate Tate on twitter, or visit the Art Not Oil website for more information.


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8 Responses to “Tate is complicit in the creation of the largest oil painting in the world.”

  1. [...] top image goes with this article about the Tate’s close relationship with BP and relates to recent news of the Deepwater [...]

  2. Steve T says:

    I appreciate the sentiment but this just comes across as some kind of smear against the Tate.

    “you might well call this deathly stain the world’s largest work of corporate art” …? I’m sorry but the Tate have got bugger all to do with the actual oil slick. You make it sound as, by association alone, they have caused the problem. If they were funding BP then I could understand such comments.

    I can appreciate that the Tate’s association with BP is less than perfect but,’Liberating the Tate’, is not going to have great any great impact on BP other than leaving them with a little spare change at the bottom of their handbags the arts even further out of pocket.

    Of course, in perfect world our arts would be funded through means that were 110% ethical but given that we live in an entropic universe, on a planet that is in a permanent state of decay, surely such energies could be focussed elsewhere on issues that can really impact upon our existence?

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for sustainable living, tackling climate change, protecting what we’ve got. I understand some folk have their own issues with the large institutions at the top table within the world of art but I’d just like to see the energies going into such campaigns redirected to tackle the root of the problems.

  3. Amelia says:

    Hi Steve, thanks very much for your comment. I’m glad this comes across as a smear against the Tate – I think it’s meant to come across as such! It’s good that the article is provoking such big reactions. I do also think you’re right though, in that we also need to tackle the roots of these problems too. Many of the people involved in the Liberate Tate campaign are also happy to do actions such as stop a coal train or close down a bank like RBS (which directly funds the fossil fuel industries) as well as living as sustainably as possible in their own lives. Grassroots groups like Climate Camp spend lots of time trying to figure out the best ways to tackle the root causes of Climate Change (I’m thinking, for instance, of the C word- Capitalism), but I think that everything helps – especially if awareness can be raised about the involvement of BP in the funding of a very respected institution. If you take money from a company that funds Climate Change then I’m afraid you have to take the rap at some point. x

  4. Amelia says:

    By the way, everyone is invited to a very important emergency meeting for the Creative Cauldron by Liberate Tate; 7pm – 10pm on Thursday 27th May at Arts Admin, Toynbee Studios, 28 Commercial Street. London, E1 6AB – Aldgate East Tube. Come and join in if you want to help deal with this: all are welcome. The action above temporarily shut down part of the Tate but the images narrowly missed being the centre piece for a BBC Newsnight piece about oil and art sponsorship. Unfortunately they pulled the piece at the last minute, but laid down a challenge, “Get celebrities or show us this is a growing movement, and we will run the story,” they said, so it seems we are now pushing at an open door. If we get Tate to divest itself from BP it would be a huge symbolic victory, delinking fossil fuels from the hearts of our culture forever. Liberate Tate won’t be asking any celebrities to get involved, but now seems an ideal time to grow this movement so GET STUCK IN FOLKS! It’s all about us…

  5. John Jordan says:

    The point is that BP’s funding if the tate IS part of the root of the problem. Oil companies, like slave trading companies in the 18th c , need to gain social acceptance for what they do. They know that getting oil out of the ground is always 1) Dirty 2) involves war or some for of repression of the local population 3) is going to get criticism from environmentalists, climate justice and social justice activists.

    So what does a company do when faced with this problem ? It needs to in BP’s words convince it’s “special publics” that what it is doing is socially legitimate activity. It’s ‘special publics” are not the readers of the sun, or the audiences of a Micheal Jackson concert, they are those who make policy and create culture, the political classes of the UK, the audiences of the Tate, Almedia theatre, National Portrait gallery, National gallery, Natural History Museum, Royal Opera house ( ALL FUNDED BY BP).

    BP could NOT pump oil out of the ground if these publics did not agree. BP gains social legitimacy and its brand is wiped clean by cultural institutions, so they are therefor at the heart of the problem, they are as important as the drill makers or the banks funding the extraction, without them BP is seen as the ecosidal, genocidal company that it truly is..Its subtle political work, but thats what they are good at, and if it wasn’t subtle it wouldn’t work !

    For more research on this notion of a “SOCIAL LICENSE TO OPERTATE” see

  6. Bazza says:

    I assume that you are also going to take action against the National Portriat Gallery, British Museum, Royal Opera House and of course the London Olympics? It is a bit harsh to target just the Tate

  7. John Jordan says:

    Its not just them !! see

    And targeting is all about strategy, strike where its hot and then move on…. and seeing as the tate tried to censor the workshop that they commissioned from us about art and activism, and in the process radicalised all the artists who attended, then it felt like perfect timing.. see my article in Arts Monthly


  8. John Jordan says:

    Dear friends i wondered if you could help with this. JJXX

    In the wake of BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster, there is renewed energy amongst artists and activists to prevent big oil companies from gaining the social legitimacy that the don’t deserve by sponsoring cultural institutions like the Tate. A recent action during the Tate’s 10 year anniversary generated a lot of public attention to the issue, as well as internal debate within the Tate itself. More exciting interventions like this are in the pipeline, and there is a real sense of a critical mass growing that could be enough to break the link between art and big oil.

    We are looking to collect responses from people in the art world, be it artists, critics, curators, academics, enthusiasts or working in art-based institutions commenting on the sponsorship of art institutions like the Tate in the UK by oil companies like Shell and BP.

    We will collect these responses and publish them online, along with a headshot (optional) and a one-line description of who made the statement. Four or five them will also be collated as part of a 4 page briefing to be published by Platform ( ) on the subject.

    We are looking for people to comment on a variety of aspects on the theme. The responses could take on any of the following, but should not necessarily be restricted by them.

    The specific link between BP and the Tate.
    More broadly on art institutions and oil companies, in light of climate change.
    Sponsorship by the likes of BP in light of the Gulf of Mexico disaster
    Sponsorship by the likes of Shell in light of their ongoing operations in the Niger Delta.
    Sponsorship by the likes of BP and Shell in the context of both of their activities in tar sands extraction in Canada – its impact on the climate and indigenous communities.
    The parallels with tobacco sponsorship in sporting events in the past
    The context of cuts being made in the art world, the need for funding to be maintained so that institutions are not under more pressure to accept oil sponsorship
    The role of art in bringing about societal transformation in the threat of climate change and the contradiction of art being sponsored by climate change ‘bad guys’.
    Any personal experiences of coming across this sort of sponsorship and your reaction to it

    These responses would ideally be no longer than 200-300 words, but if you are feeling particularly inspired, then please go for it! We are looking for a variety of ‘names’ in the art world and also grassroots people.

    We would need to receive statements that would be considered for the short publication by Friday the 4th of June, but we will keep collecting statements for web-based use after this point.

    Please send the statements to, and

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