Category: Art Activism

Tate Modern Rejects “The Gift”

There are those who credit the Tate Modern in London for being in the vanguard of promoting and collecting “cutting edge” postmodern art. A 2010 installation at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is often mentioned in that context. Working with the Tate, Ai had assistants cover the entire Turbine Hall floor with over 100 million handmade porcelain sunflower “seeds”. What it all meant was open to interpretation, but for the next 48 hours the public was invited to frolic through the thick carpet of seeds, until the museum roped off the area because of hazardous ceramic dust.

In 2012 the Tate purchased ten tons of Ai Weiwei’s porcelain sunflower seeds, around 8 million individual seeds, for the museum’s permanent collection. The acquisition represented less than a tenth of the seeds used in the original installation. The Tate would not divulge the purchase price of their acquisition, but at a 2011 auction at Sotheby’s the white ceramic seeds were sold for £3.50 each (around $5.00).

"The Gift" - Liberate Tate. Installation/Performance. Tate Modern Turbine Hall. July 7, 2012. Photo by Immo Klink.

"The Gift" - Liberate Tate. Installation/Performance. Tate Modern Turbine Hall. July 7, 2012. Photo by Immo Klink.

In the latest, albeit unauthorized, installation at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, the artists and activists of the Liberate Tate art collective delivered an artwork titled The Gift to the Tate Modern on July 7, 2012; the gift being an enormous 54 foot, one and a half ton wind turbine blade. Over 100 Liberate Tate group members carried the leviathan blade, disassembled into three huge parts, to the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Getting the blade past the panicked Tate security guards was difficult enough, but once inside the hall the group reassembled the blade under the watchful eye of museum guards and police officers.

Think of Liberate Tate’s wind turbine blade as a gigantic Duchampian style readymade, but one with a clear and timely message. The windmill blade, icon of renewable energy, is placed inside the Tate, recipient of major funding from the international oil company, BP. Conceptual art with an actual concept! There is no small irony in this, since the Tate has in its collection a replica of Fountain, the porcelain urinal Marcel Duchamp submitted to an exhibit organized by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917.

The Tate website describes Fountain with the following: “Fountain is an example of what Duchamp called a ‘readymade’, an ordinary manufactured object designated by the artist as a work of art. It epitomizes the assault on convention and good taste for which he and the Dada movement are best known.” The Tate understands “readymade” and “assault on convention” in a purely academic way, but fails to comprehend any contemporary real world application. Can anyone really explain why a urinal is a “work of art” but a windmill blade is not?

Liberate Tate art collective installation and performance. Tate Modern Turbine Hall. July 7, 2012 Photo by Ian Buswell.

Liberate Tate art collective installation and performance. Tate Modern Turbine Hall. July 7, 2012. Photo by Ian Buswell.

The Liberate Tate art collective put forward their wind turbine blade as a “gift to the nation” under the provisions of the UK government’s Museums and Galleries Act of 1992. This requires the Tate to officially consider accepting the work as part of its permanent collection. Liberate Tate formally submitted their artwork as a gift to the nation in an official letter to Sir Nicholas Serota, the Director of the Tate. The letter in part read: “We gift this artwork with the intention of increasing the public’s understanding and enjoyment of contemporary art.” Liberate Tate spokesperson Sharon Palmer told the press:

“For more than 20 years Tate has been used by BP to present an image of corporate benevolence while the oil company has been involved in environmental and human rights controversies the world over.

We’re approaching an irrevocable turning point in our ability to address the climate crisis, so now is the time for Tate to look to the future and remove itself from the destructive heart of the fossil fuel economy. Liberate Tate has created this artwork using an icon of renewable energy with an express wish that Tate will have the courage to take leadership in addressing the threat of catastrophic climate change and end its relationship with BP.”

In a separate public statement, Communiqué #3 The Gift, Liberate Tate offered a rather poetic explanation of The Gift, and what motivated them to bequeath their giant wind turbine blade to the nation. An excerpt from the message reads as follows:

“Despite recent reports that our biosphere is approaching a ‘tipping point’ where ecosystems are close to a sudden and irreversible change that could extinguish human life; despite years of creative protest and thousands of signatories petitioning Tate to clean up its image and let go of its relationship with a company that is fuelling catastrophe; despite all these things, Tate continues to promote the burning of fossil fuels by taking the poisoned ‘gift’ of funding from BP. This is why today we have given you something you could not refuse.

The law of this island requires that all ‘gifts to the nation’, donations of art from the people, be considered as works for public museums. Consider this one judiciously. We think that it is a work that will fit elegantly in the Tate collection, a work that celebrates a future that gives rather than takes away, a gentle whispering solution, a monument to a world in transition.

Resting on the floor of your museum, it might resemble the bones of a leviathan monster washed up from the salty depths, a suitable metaphor for the deep arctic drilling that BP is profiting from now that the ice is melting. But it is not animal, nor is it dead, it is a living relic from a future that is aching to become the present. It is part of a magic machine, a tool of transformation, a grateful giant.”

Not surprisingly, just hours after the public and Liberate Tate’s members were cleared from the Turbine Hall by museum security, the Tate removed the 54 foot wind turbine blade from the hall to an undisclosed location. One can surmise that it was not even considered by the Tate Board of Directors for acceptance into the museum’s permanent collection.

Liberate Tate’s performance and installation was captured on film and posted on the VICE News website. Felix Goncalez and Stephanie Thieullent of You And I Films also documented the event in a short video they call The Gift.

Faraway, So Close: ’80s L.A. Photos

"May Day in Los Angeles, 1980" - Mark Vallen. 1980 ©. Print from 35mm Diapositive. 6.5 x 9.75 inches. This photograph was taken in L.A.'s MacArthur Park just moments before the Los Angeles Police Department attacked a large crowd celebrating International Workers Day. The rally had been the first significant May Day demonstration to take place in L.A. since the 1960s.

"May Day in Los Angeles, 1980" - Mark Vallen. 1980 ©. Print from 35mm Diapositive. 6.5 x 9.75 inches. This photograph was taken in L.A.'s MacArthur Park just moments before the Los Angeles Police Department attacked a large crowd celebrating International Workers Day. The rally had been the first significant May Day demonstration to take place in L.A. since the 1960s. On view at the Morono Kiang Gallery's "Faraway, So Close" exhibit.

I will be exhibiting six never before shown photos at Faraway, So Close, a group exhibition of photographs on the theme of Los Angeles as it existed between the years 1980 and 1989. Running from February 4, 2012, to March 31, 2012 at the Morono Kiang Gallery in downtown Los Angeles, the exhibit also features works by Sara Jane Boyers, Edward Colver, Willie Middlebrook, Ann Summa, May Sun, and Richard Wyatt.

Some participants in the exhibit are celebrated photographers known for capturing the visage of L.A. with their gifted camerawork. Others - this would include me - are more interested in painting the city’s diversity on canvas, using photography only as an optional extra tool in the artistic process. What unifies these two schools in Faraway, So Close, is an intention to catch something of the truth about life in Los Angeles.

I have always been interested in the connection that exists between drawing, painting, and photography, ever since I discovered as a pre-teen that the 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer quite possibly used a camera obscura as a tool in creating his fabulous oil paintings.

As a teenager I was enthralled, not by the world of art photographers, but by the efforts of documentarians like Dorothea Lange, Robert Capa, and Walker Evans. Their photos from the 1930’s depicting real world events and individuals clearly indicated to me that art was about more than just aesthetics, it had a social purpose as well. When I discovered the paintings of Ben Shahn, one of America’s premiere social realist painters from the 1930s, I learned he was also a photographer that used a 35mm Leica to capture the realities of New York’s working poor. That he based his artworks upon his photographs was an inspiration to me, a fact that helped guide me to the camera as an essential tool in my work as a visual artist. As I conducted further research into the relationship between painting and photography, I was impressed by the views of the Mexican Muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, who wrote the following in the late 1930’s:

“I consider that, in their escape from reality, the modern painters of the Paris school committed the greatest blunder in the history of art, especially when a mechanical apparatus had just made it possible to capture reality. The photographic camera helped objective art to break out of the dead end in which it found itself; it made possible the advance of realism. The camera is the indispensable tool of a new realism, and without it one cannot even begin to think about the solution of such a problem. The camera established the knowledge of astronomy and of astrophysics. With the help of X-rays, photography gave medicine empirical knowledge of man’s insides. It captures pictures; how then can we, the creators of pictures, ignore or despise it?”

Just as Shahn and Siqueiros used their snapshots as starting points for more complex works, I too have used my photos as source material for drawings and paintings. While I have never regarded myself as a photographer, there is a correlation between my art and the photo. As a figurative realist artist the camera has always provided me with the ability to capture fleeting realities to be studied, interpreted, and built upon in the studio. For me the camera serves as a sketchbook of sorts, it is the means to an end, i.e., extrapolating on the information it gathers in order to create drawings, paintings, and prints that comment on the human condition.

"Bandera Roja/Red Banner" - Mark Vallen. 1985 ©. Print from 35mm Diapositive. 6.5 x 9.75 inches. An activist helps carry a banner emblazoned with revolutionary slogans during a downtown L.A. march that took place on April 20, 1985 - a national day of protest against the policies of the Reagan administration.

"Bandera Roja/Red Banner" - Mark Vallen. 1985 ©. Print from 35mm Diapositive. 6.5 x 9.75 inches. An activist helps carry a banner emblazoned with slogans during a downtown L.A. march that took place on April 20, 1985 - a national day of protest against the policies of the Reagan administration. On view at the Morono Kiang Gallery's "Faraway, So Close" exhibit.

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s I carried a 35mm camera, using it as a “sketchpad” to keep a record of the ever changing social landscape that is Los Angeles. During that period I took informal photos of everything from L.A.’s explosive punk rock scene (which I was actively engaged in), to the mass protests organized by the peace and anti-Apartheid movements (where I was also involved as an activist). My selected photographs in Faraway, So Close show my participation in, and documentation of, the Central American solidarity network that was such a large part of L.A.’s political landscape in the 1980s.

The Opening Reception for Faraway, So Close takes place on Saturday, February 4, 2012, from 6 to 9 p.m. The Morono Kiang Gallery is located in downtown Los Angeles on the ground floor of the historic Bradbury Building; 218 West 3rd Street, Bradbury Building. Los Angeles, CA 90013 (directions and map). Regular gallery hours are 12 to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The exhibit runs until March 31, 2012.

UPDATE/Read the Los Angeles Times review of the Morono Kiang exhibit, Photo File: ‘Faraway So Close’ documents turbulent ’80s in L.A.

Panel Discussion with the artists at the Morono Kiang Gallery
Saturday, March 31, 2012. 3:00 – 5:00 pm

morono_kiang_artistsThe Morono Kiang Gallery will host a panel discussion with the artists of Faraway, So Close on Saturday March 31, 2012 from 3:00-5:00 pm. Please join us as artists (shown above) Sara Jane Boyers, Richard Wyatt, Edward Colver, Willie Middlebrook, May Sun, Ann Summa, Mark Vallen, and Shervin Shahbazi (not pictured), recount life in 1980s Los Angeles, talk about their experiences in a changing cultural landscape, and answer questions about their work.

The artists in the exhibit were asked to present a personal take on what they were looking at during this particular place and time. As a result, the works presented in the exhibit fulfill the artists’ professional and/or personal objectives. These photographs, taken by artists charged with the task of documenting the cultural life happening around them, provide a glimpse into the city’s recent past from multiple vantage points. Each photograph featured in this show embodies layers of Los Angeles stories about people and places, events and activities. Decades later, these images have become important documents of the era that marked the beginning of the cultural and political changes that would follow. Admission to this event is free. RSVP: info@moronokiang.com

We ART the 99%

During the Nov. 30, 2011 raid on the Occupy L.A. camp, an LAPD officer inspects the inside of a tent with a "less than lethal" 12 gauge shotgun. Identified by its bright green stock and fore-grips, the weapon fires "bean bag" munitions, oblong cloth bags filled with up to 56 grams of lead pellets. The incapacitating impact of these rounds produces intense pain. Photo AP/Mark Boster/Pool

During the Nov. 30, 2011 raid on the Occupy L.A. camp, an LAPD officer inspects the inside of a tent with a "less than lethal" 12 gauge shotgun. Identified by its bright green stock and fore-grips, the weapon fires "bean bag" munitions, oblong cloth bags filled with up to 56 grams of lead pellets. The incapacitating impact of these rounds produces intense pain. Photo AP/Mark Boster/Pool

On November 27, 2011, Bloomberg Magazine published an explosive report that revealed the U.S. Federal Reserve had secretly loaned trillions of dollars to ailing banks without informing Congress or the American people.

According to the exposé the Fed “had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.” Moreover, the Fed offered the loans to big banks at below-market rates, which allowed the banks to reap some $13 billion in profits at the taxpayers expense.

The trillions distributed by the Fed were separate from the massive $700 billion bailout the Bush and Obama administrations furnished to Wall Street under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. It is precisely this type of collusion between oligarchs and bureaucrats that has caused the dramatic ascendancy of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

During the Nov. 30, 2011 raid on Occupy L.A., an LAPD officer aims a "less than lethal" 12 gauge shotgun at protesters sitting in a tree at the L.A. City Hall Occupy camp. "Less than lethal" projectiles can be deadly if an individual is struck with them in the head or upper torso. In the worst violence of the raid, the LAPD fired several "bean bag" rounds to dislodge protesters who had taken to the trees. Photo AP/Lucy Nicholson/Pool

During the Nov. 30, 2011 raid on Occupy L.A., an LAPD officer aims a "less than lethal" 12 gauge shotgun at protesters sitting in a tree at the L.A. City Hall Occupy camp. "Less than lethal" projectiles can be deadly if an individual is struck with them in the head or upper torso. In the worst violence of the raid, the LAPD fired several "bean bag" rounds to dislodge protesters who had taken to the trees. Photo AP/Lucy Nicholson/Pool

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011, more than 1,400 riot-clad officers from the Los Angeles Police Department swarmed over the Occupy L.A. encampment at City Hall. As police in riot gear drove activists from the area, other officers in biohazard suits made arrests and systematically destroyed the tent city. Until its obliteration, the L.A. camp had been the largest in the U.S. after the original N.Y. Wall Street encampment - which was similarly demolished.

From their massive staging area at nearby Dodger Stadium, the LAPD were transported to L.A. City Hall by thirty Metro buses driven by Metro bus operators. Carried out with military precision, the raid was the largest police deployment in L.A. since the city’s Democratic National Convention in 2000. While occupy activists adhered to their pledges of non-violent resistance, the generally restrained LAPD nevertheless came prepared for major violence.

We ART the 99%  - Exhibit flyer circulated by L.A.'s Latino Museum of History, Art & Culture

"We ART the 99%" - Exhibit flyer circulated by L.A.'s Latino Museum of History, Art & Culture

The LAPD’s Air Support Division used helicopters equipped with thermal imaging scanners to detect the heat signatures of people underneath the canopy of trees surrounding City Hall. The LAPD’s bomb-squad used a gigantic remote-control vehicle called a Batcat to remove activists from trees. The operation resulted in the arrest of 292 occupy activists. That same evening a police raid destroyed the Occupy Philadelphia camp, where authorities arrested 50 activists.

Coming on the heels of this latest concentrated onslaught against the Occupy Wall Street movement, L.A.’s Latino Museum of History, Art & Culture is presenting an art exhibition titled, We ART the 99%. Mounted in cooperation with Occupy Los Angeles Community Artivists, the exhibit promises insight into the philosophy behind the movement, as well as providing an environment where people may contemplate its meaning and impact. Occupy activists are far from feeling defeated, and We ART the 99% might just point to what lies ahead.

The exhibit opens with an Artists Reception on Thursday, December 8, 2011, starting at 6 p.m. and running until 9 p.m. The Latino Museum of History, Art & Culture is located in downtown L.A. just five blocks south of City Hall at 514 S. Spring St (map). Admission is free.

Occupy the Art World

Placards at Foley Square, New York City, Nov. 15, 2011. - Anonymous artist. Photo from www.occupywallst.org

Placards at Foley Square, New York City, Nov. 15, 2011. - Anonymous artist. Photo from www.occupywallst.org

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement describes contemporary U.S. society as being under the domination of the “one percent”, those super-wealthy individuals and corporations that control everything from the media to the halls of Congress.

While the primary focus of OWS has been aimed at the home foreclosures, unemployment, and social inequality fostered by the greed of rapacious banks and corporations, some critical assessment of the impact corporate titans have exercised over culture is also in order.

For those inured to the art world having been commandeered by high finance, now is the time of reckoning. In view of the Occupy movement’s fight against plutocracy, the arts community should scrutinize the role financial institutions have played, and continue to play, in the collapse of the economy. Those same corporations maintain a benevolent public image through funding the arts; I will mention a handful of these oligarchic “arts supporters” in this article.

Mat Gleason, art critic and founder of the Los Angeles arts periodical Coagula Art Journal, wrote an essay for the AOL owned Huffington Post titled, Is Pacific Standard Time Too Big to Fail? While Gleason’s article was certainly a jab at the Getty Foundation’s much heralded Pacific Standard Time extravaganza of some forty exhibits across Southern California, his commentary also raised the issue of corporate sponsorship of the arts. He specifically targeted Bank of America as the financial backer behind Pacific Standard Time. In his article, Gleason wrote:

Bank of America ATM receipt - Original illustration for Mat Gleason's article, "Is Pacific Standard Time Too Big to Fail?"

Bank of America ATM receipt - Original illustration for Mat Gleason's article, "Is Pacific Standard Time Too Big to Fail?"

“A friend sent me her Bank of America ATM receipt with its upbeat encouragement to explore the Pacific Standard Time (PST) website. Could there be a crueler indictment of an art world that is convinced of its moral superiority to mainstream culture than to be subsidized by one of the criminal financial forces that has brought our culture to its very knees?

I was seriously considering a boycott of the entire Pacific Standard Time when I saw an entity sponsoring a cultural event after basically destroying the culture via the economy. For BofA to celebrate the very pulse that it now has contributed to killing is disgusting. But the era of the boycott seems to have vanished - instead of the boycott’s zero attention, the ‘occupy’ era challenges power by giving perpetrators 100 percent attention. While there is a call for people to remove their money from large financial institutions on November 5 and open accounts at a local credit union, how do we as a region remove the art that defines our city and our times from the large art institutions?

I suppose you don’t need an answer to begin your occupation of the art institution of your choice. And if you cannot choose one, don’t forget that the big banks collaborate with art educational institutions to profit mightily off of student loan debt. Curricula in the hallowed halls of these capitalist MFA casinos mimic the self-impressed non-engagement aesthetic as much or more than most PST exhibits. The anxiety is erased into the conceptual ether. Prozac is to art creation what the Getty is to art curation.”

"Make Wall Street Pay" - Anonymous artist. Based on a photo of "For the Love of God", a sculpture by British artist Damien Hirst. The work, a human skull cast in platinum and covered with 8,601 flawless diamonds, is alleged to have sold for £50 million ($79 million). Poster available for download at www.adbusters.org

"Make Wall Street Pay" - Anonymous artist. Based on a photo of "For the Love of God", a sculpture by British artist Damien Hirst. The work, a human skull cast in platinum and covered with 8,601 flawless diamonds, is alleged to have sold for £50 million ($79 million). Poster available for download at www.adbusters.org

While I do not agree with Gleason’s assessment of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time exhibitions, his swipe at Bank of America broaches the wider issue of corporate backing of the arts.

The prickly question is, how do artists circumvent the hegemony of the privileged few to establish and sustain truly autonomous art?

In January 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws banning corporations from using their vast wealth to support or oppose candidates for political office. Millions of Americans were aghast at the decision, which allows corporations to pump unlimited funds into the coffers of political candidates; a distortion of democracy that gives powerful companies the ability to purchase candidates as well as the legislative process. But if it is injurious to the nation to hand over government to monied interests, then is it not also ruinous to give those same monied elites control over the nation’s artistic and cultural life?

The economic meltdown that began in 2008 was in part a result of corrupt dealings by giant banking and loan companies, particularly in the housing market. As that market collapsed, firms like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase loaded portfolios with “toxic” mortgage investments, then sold them to unsuspecting clients while betting the investments would fall in value. The scamming was a factor in the economic crisis, yet, as journalist Robert Scheer pointed out, not a single banker faces criminal charges “since the Justice Department has refused to act in these cases, and the Security and Exchange Commission is bringing only civil charges, which the banks find quite tolerable.” By contrast, 4,542 activists have been arrested in protests against the financial elite since the Occupy Wall Street movement began on Sept. 17, 2011.

 "Money Talks Too Much, Occupy!" - Josh MacPhee. 2011. JustSeed Artist's Cooperative. Silkscreen print.

"Money Talks Too Much, Occupy!" - Josh MacPhee. 2011. JustSeed Artist's Cooperative. Silkscreen.

Throughout the 2004-2008 housing bubble, the banking practices of Bank of America abetted the ‘08 crash of the global economy.

In the aftermath of the collapse, BofA received $15 billion in taxpayer’s bailout money from the U.S. government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), along with an additional sum of $10 billion so that BofA could purchase the failing bank, Merrill Lynch. In January 2009 BofA received another $20 billion from TARP; unbelievably, 75% of the $20 billion went to pay Merrill Lynch executives massive bonus packages!

Needless to say, the roughly 9 million Americans who lost their jobs as a result of the Wall Street crash have still not received a bailout.

On Sept. 2, 2011, the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), announced a lawsuit against more than a dozen major banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. The feds charged the banks with having sold some $200 billion in fraudulent mortgage investments to housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, leading to huge losses during the financial crisis. On Sept. 13, 2011, CNBC reported that BofA was “ramping up its foreclosure processing, sending out far more notices of default to borrowers in August than in previous months, well over 200 percent more month-to-month.” Around 1.2 million BofA customers in California alone are delinquent in their mortgage payments and could face foreclosure on their homes. When BofA subsidizes a museum or cultural event, one should think of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens the bank has made homeless.

"Take The Bull By The Horns" - Jesse Goldstein. 2011. Silkscreen print.

"Take The Bull By The Horns" - Jesse Goldstein. 2011. Silkscreen print.

On Nov. 8, 2011, a class-action suit against Bank of America ended with the company being required to pay a $410 million settlement.

The lawsuit affected some 13 million BofA customers who were wrongly charged overdraft fees on their debit cards, charges that were typically $35 per occurrence.

According to the Associated Press, an attorney involved in the lawsuit, “calculated that the bank actually raked in $4.5 billion through the overdraft fees and was repaying less than 10 percent. He said the average customer in the case had $300 in overdraft fees, making them eligible for a $27 award - less than one overdraft charge - from the lawsuit.” With BofA making off with that kind of plunder, no wonder they can afford to underwrite the arts.

Despite being the largest bank in the U.S., BofA paid no income taxes in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. In fact the bank received a tax “benefit” of nearly $1 billion for 2010. The bank’s new CEO, Brian T. Moynihan, received $10 million in 2010 as compensation for his first year as Chief Executive Officer.

"The Brains" - Thomas Nast. Wood engraving. 1871. Originally published in Harper's Weekly as an attack against the corrupt Democratic Party political machine that ruled New York City in the 19th century. Specifically Nast portrayed oligarchy as "the brains" behind the crooked politician "Boss Tweed", but Nast's acerbic cartoon was also a general condemnation of oligarchy as the corruptor of democracy. In essence Nast's cartoon epitomizes the political philosophy of today's Occupy Movement, i.e., financial oligarchy is strangling democracy and impoverishing the majority.

"The Brains" - Thomas Nast. Wood engraving. 1871. Originally published in Harper's Weekly as an attack against the corrupt Democratic Party political machine that ruled New York City in the 19th century. Specifically Nast portrayed oligarchy as "the brains" behind the crooked politician "Boss Tweed", but Nast's acerbic cartoon was also a general condemnation of oligarchy as the corruptor of democracy. In essence Nast's cartoon epitomizes the political philosophy of today's Occupy Movement, i.e., financial oligarchy is strangling democracy and impoverishing the majority.

With some $2.1 trillion in assets, JPMorgan Chase is the second largest bank after BofA, but it is second to none when it comes to financial crimes - one hardly knows where to begin. As the housing market crashed JPMorgan Chase sold mortgage securities to investors but failed to tell buyers it used a hedge fund to select the assets in the portfolio, and that the hedge fund stood to profit if the investments lost value, which of course they did. More than a dozen investors lost huge sums of money in the crooked deals. JPMorgan Chase paid $153.6 million to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it had mislead investors.

JPMorgan Chase sponsored The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire, an exhibit that ran from March to July, 2010 at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California. A merger between J.P. Morgan & Co. and Chase Manhattan Bank in 2000 created JPMorgan Chase, but Chase Manhattan Bank has an unsavory history in Latin America. Long associated with the Rockefeller family, Chase was once known for its close ties to Standard Oil (itself founded by John D. Rockefeller), which rapaciously exploited Mexican oil starting in 1910. It is indeed ironic that Chase would be the sponsor of Mexico’s great Aztec art treasures. Chase Manhattan Bank played a key role in the military coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected government on September 11, 1973. Christopher Hitchins detailed some of this in his book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger.

The New York Times reported that Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was paid a total of $20,816,289 in 2010, and for the first quarter of 2010 the bank made $3.3 billion in profits. On Nov. 2, 2011, several hundred protestors from the Occupy Seattle movement protested against Dimon when he appeared at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle, Washington, as a keynote speaker for the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Chanting “Banks got bailed out; we got sold out!” the protesters disparaged Dimon for his exorbitant salary, and condemned JPMorgan Chase for getting $25 billion in bailout loans in 2008 while tens of thousands of homeowners lost their homes to foreclosures.

"Shut Down The Wall Street Casino" - G. Brockman. 2011. Poster announcing the first day of action at New York's financial district. Poster available for download at www.adbusters.org

"Shut Down The Wall Street Casino" - G. Brockman. 2011. Poster announcing the first day of action at New York's financial district. Poster available for download at www.adbusters.org

Levi Strauss & Co. (Levi’s®.) and Nike SB (the skateboard division of Nike Inc.) provided financial backing to Art In The Streets, the “blockbuster” exhibit mounted by the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), in Los Angeles. Getting uncommon press attention and running from April to August, 2011, the show was the first U.S. museum exhibit to present the history of graffiti and street art.

The exhibit was promoted and generally received as groundbreaking; but consider the following - Levi’s pays Haitian workers slave wages in the sweatshop manufacturing plants the company’s “contractors” operate in Haiti, and Nike does the same in Taiwan where workers are paid 50 cents per hour.

U.S. State Department diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published in the Haitian newspaper Haïti Liberté and the monthly Nation magazine, revealed that the Obama White House in 2009 fought to keep the minimum wage in Haiti to just 31 cents an hour so U.S. companies like Levi Strauss could continue to reap vast profits from Haitian workers. The cables reveal that deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, David E. Lindwall, argued that attempts to raise wages “did not take economic reality into account” but were gambits aimed at appealing to “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”

Haiti is the least-developed and poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and while its workers make pennies a day, Levi Strauss & Co. reported its 2010 net revenues at $4.4 billion. According to documents submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Levi’s CEO Charles “Chip” V. Bergh received compensation of $9,150,000 for fiscal year 2011.

"OCCUPY" - Matt W. Downloadable street poster. Digital media. 2011. Download this 8 1/2 x 11 graphic at: www.occupytogether.org/posters/Matt-W-bw.pdf

"OCCUPY" - Matt W. Downloadable street poster. Digital media. 2011. Download this 8 1/2 x 11 graphic at: www.occupytogether.org/posters/Matt-W-bw.pdf

On July 13, 2011, the Associated Press published an exposé on the abysmal conditions workers suffer in Nike’s Asian manufacturing plants, where most of the company’s 1,000 “contractor” run factories are located. The AP noted that 10,000 female workers at the Nike plant in Taiwan make roughly 50 cents per hour, and complain of being physically abused by plant supervisors (enduring kicks, scratches, and slaps), or of being fired for registering complaints. Workers in Nike’s Indonesian plants also spoke of verbal and physical abuse, low wages and arbitrary firings.

After the AP released its findings, Nike promised “immediate and decisive action” to end the abuses, but it made the same claims in decades past when caught using child labor in Indonesia and Cambodia (involving girls as young as twelve who worked for 22 cents an hour, seven days a week, for sixteen hours a day). It should be noted that while Nike’s contract workers in Asia today are paid around 50 cents an hour, the company earned $1.91 billion in fiscal year 2010, and its CEO, Mark Parker, received $13.1 million in compensation. If the aforementioned facts about the sponsors of Art In The Streets had been known, visitors to the exhibit might have been offended; but corporate sponsorship of the arts, at least from the perspective of corporations, is an effective way to conjure up a benevolent public image where otherwise one does not exist.

Target subsidizes free admission days at more than 30 U.S. museums and theaters, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. But the mega-box store is not without its controversies, from telling its pharmacists they can refuse dispensing emergency contraception to customers, to contributing money to anti-gay groups and politicians. Those enjoying their free museum admission days might be surprised to learn that Target was the number one contributor to Republican Congresswoman and Tea Party favorite, Michele Bachmann, donating $19,950 to the candidate’s 2009-2010 campaign.

In fiscal year 2010 Target made over $67 billion and Gregg Steinhafel, Chairman, President and CEO of Target Stores Inc., received compensation of $24 million. Yet, Target’s mostly part-time workers earn “too little to support a family or afford health insurance, forcing some to rely on food stamps and Medicaid for their children”, according to a New York Times report.

Target’s workers are entirely non-unionized. New hires are required to watch an anti-union propaganda video that is positively Orwellian. A campaign to unionize the Valley Stream, New York Target store faced intimidation and harassment.

The union lost the June 2011 election, but the National Labor Relations Board found evidence that Target threatened workers with the store’s closure if they voted union, a violation of labor laws that may lead to nullification of the election results.

I have been writing about the relationship between BP (British Petroleum, one of the world’s biggest polluters), and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) since March of 2007. In fact this web log was the first to offer a critique of LACMA’s association with BP. My archive of articles pertaining to the BP-LACMA arrangement makes for interesting reading, though there is always something new to report, such as the following.

On Nov. 5, 2011, the Guardian reported that court documents revealed BP’s business dealings with the Russian government and oil consortiums caused BP to describe their Russian contacts as “crooks and thugs.” Whether or not the Russians BP deals with are criminal types is beside the point; that BP perceives them to be gangsters and yet continues to partner with them tells everything there is to know about the business ethos of BP. A review of BP’s multi-billion dollar dealings with Libya’s former strongman Muammar Gaddafi only sharpens the point.

Project Censored released a report in 2011 claiming the U.S. Department of Defense is the worst polluter on the planet. Whether or not readers accept those allegations, BP selling huge amounts of aviation fuel and petroleum products to the Pentagon cannot be disputed. The Washington Post reported that BP “was the Pentagon’s largest single supplier of fuel” in 2009, and that “contracts amount to roughly the same percentage” for 2010. Sales continued even as BP’s pipeline gushed tens of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The paper quoted a former EPA lawyer familiar with the contract between BP and the Pentagon: “BP was supplying approximately 80 percent of the fuel being used to move U.S. forces” in the Middle East.

We have entered the age of austerity, and everywhere the 99% are being made to pay for the financial crimes of the 1%. Those who say corporate backing of the arts is necessary, that museums and other cultural venues could not survive without it, especially with austerity budgets and deep cuts in arts funding being enacted by governments, are missing an essential fact. The resources exist, they are simply monopolized by a minority out of greed and self-interest. The Congressional Budget Office reported that from 1979 to 2007 the after-tax income of America’s top 1 percent soared 275 percent. More importantly, Citizens for Tax Justice released a report showing that 280 of the most profitable U.S. corporations have sheltered half their profits from taxes, and thirty U.S. corporations paid no federal income tax whatsoever from 2008 to 2010. In addition, the report found that “the top ten defense contractors saw their combined tax rate decline from 19.3 percent in 2008 to a mere 10.6 percent in 2010″.

Some arts professionals have told me that corporate sponsorship of the arts is no different than the kings of yesteryear lavishing gold upon artists to create grandiose works in praise of nobility and kingly realms; after all, some of the world’s greatest artworks were created due to the largesse of “royal sovereigns”. But we are no longer serfs living in medieval times, or so I like to tell myself. Just because a gaggle of multi-billionaires like to imagine themselves as the Medici’s of the 21st century does not mean we have to entertain their delusions. People today aspire to democratic governance where potentates do not determine the course of society. If democracy is preferable to aristocracy in political affairs, then why should art and cultural policy be determined by a new financial aristocracy?

OCCUPY SOTHEBY’S

Occupy Wall Street protesters held a boisterous demonstration in front of Sotheby’s New York headquarters on the evening of Nov. 9, 2011 as the auction house conducted its biggest sale of contemporary art in three years. More than 100 protesters chanting “Art for the masses, not the ruling classes!” and “They say cut back, we say fight back”, confronted well-to-do art collectors as they disembarked from their limousines. Escorted into the auction house by New York City policemen and Sotheby’s security staff, the wealthy clients participated in frenzied bidding that fetched the auction house $315.8 million.

In its coverage of the demonstration Businessweek quoted Richard Feigen, a New York art dealer who attended the Sotheby’s auction, “It demonstrates the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. You see people demonstrating out there, people are out of jobs and their houses. And people in here are dumping millions into art.”

The protest was organized by Occupy Wall Street activists and forty three union art handlers employed by Sotheby’s but locked out by the auction house since July 29, 2011 over a labor contract dispute. Sotheby’s is demanding the replacement of several of its skilled full-time handlers with temporary non-union workers who will work shortened 36-hour work weeks without benefits. The company also insists that worker’s give up their 401k plan. When contract negotiations stalled, Sotheby’s locked its art handlers out. While Sotheby’s refuses to pay its art handlers a decent wage, The Art Newspaper reported on May 2011 that Sotheby’s CEO, William Ruprecht, was awarded $6 million in compensation for fiscal year 2010 (up from $2.4 million in 2009). All told, executive pay increases for Sotheby’s top five CEOs came to $15.3 million, a 125% increase from 2009. Sotheby’s profits for fiscal year 2010 were over $680 million.

As the affluent were ushered into Sotheby’s auction by the police, locked out art handlers carried aloft a huge inflatable rat and an inflatable “fat cat” strangling a worker. While Occupy Wall Street protesters chanted “Shame!”, a brass band blared in the streets as demonstrators blocked the entrance to Sotheby’s with a sit-in action; several activists chained themselves together. Police swooped in and dragged the protesters from the entrance, making 8 arrests. One of those being arrested said, “I am here because Sotheby’s is the 1%, their CEO makes sixty thousand dollars a day, but apparently they can’t keep their union workers employed.”

At the auction a quartet of abstract paintings by the now deceased American painter, Clyfford Still (1933-1980), went for $114 million, twice their asking price. One of Still’s abstract canvases, 1949-A-No. 1, sold for $61.6 million. In the mid-1930s Still painted figurative realist works influenced by the American Scene school, but by the late 1940s he turned to abstract expressionism. Describing his having embraced abstraction, he once said; “Our age, it is of science, of mechanism, of power and death. I see no virtue in adding to its mammoth arrogance the compliment of graphic homage.” By the 1950s Still was disillusioned with the art world, severing ties with galleries and even turning down an invitation to exhibit works at the 1957 Venice Biennale. He continued to make art until his death, but sold little and exhibited even less.

One can only imagine what Still would say about his paintings selling for tens of millions at Sotheby’s during the most severe economic crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression.

The Alternates Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street is a song composed and performed by Spencer Livingston, lead singer and guitarist for The Alternates, a Los Angeles rock band I happen to be a fan of. The compelling video for the song was created by Jake Craven, the piano, organ, and trombone player for the band. In order to support the growing national and international Occupy movement, The Alternates have decided to offer free downloads of their Occupy Wall Street song; you can download your copy at - www.thealternatesband.com

Trends in the Distribution of Household Income, a report released on October 25, 2011 by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the average after-tax income of the nation’s top 1 percent swelled by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007. In the same time frame the income of the country’s poorest 20 percent grew by a mere 18 percent. According the CBO’s research, conducted for senior Republican and Democratic members on the Senator Finance Committee, “The share of income going to higher-income households rose, while the share going to lower-income households fell. The top fifth of the population saw a 10-percentage-point increase in their share of after-tax income; most of that growth went to the top 1 percent of the population; all other groups saw their shares decline by 2 to 3 percentage points.” It should be remembered that on Dec. 17, 2010, President Obama signed an $858 billion tax cut bill that extended the Bush-era tax cuts for the nation’s top income bracket.

On Oct. 26, 2011, the Democratic mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, gave orders to the Oakland Police Department and 15 other law enforcement agencies to clear the Occupy Oakland protest at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland. Interestingly enough, it is the U.K. Guardian that has provided the most extensive coverage of the crackdown against the Oakland protesters. Over 500 riot police used truncheons, rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, and bean bag rounds fired from shot guns to clear and hold the plaza. In the melee police shot a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq war in the head with a projectile, knocking him unconscious, then tossed a flash bang grenade into the crowd of protesters who attempted to help the critically injured man. Scott Olsen, who had twice been deployed to Iraq and had joined Occupy Oakland as a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, was eventually rescued by protesters and rushed to a Hospital, where doctors treated him for skull fracture and swelling of the brain.

“Occupy Wall Street, we are fighting for our lives.
Occupy this country, let’s make it right.” - The Alternates

Nagasaki Nightmare

“They’re always there high in the skies
Pretty as a picture in the generals’ eyes
They’ve done it once, and they’ll do it again
They’ll shower us all in their deadly rain.”
- Nagasaki Nightmare. Crass.

August 6, 2011 marks the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. detonated an Atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima at 8:15 in the morning. Three days later a second bomb was exploded over the city of Nagasaki at 11:02 in the morning. The Americans called their bombs “Little Boy” (Hiroshima) and “Fat Man” (Nagasaki); the Japanese simply called them Pikadon, meaning “Flash-boom.”

A young mother with her baby engulfed in atomic fire. Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki

A young mother with her baby engulfed in atomic fire. Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

In the early 1990’s I put together on online gallery of art created by Hibakusha (Japanese for “Atom Bomb Survivor”).

The artworks that comprise the gallery were placed in my hands by Japanese peace activists in 1984 through the good graces of now deceased Quaker peace activist Barbara Reynolds. The two illustrations to this article can also be found in the gallery; the artworks are by Iri and Toshi Maruki, who created the Hiroshima panels, a massive mural project with the atomic bombings of Japan as their subject.

After looking at the hibakusha paintings, artworks created by those who survived the first, and hopefully last atomic holocaust, there is little else that can be said about this most unhappy anniversary. It is shameful that governments still posses, or seek to posses, such weapons of mass murder and terror; it is doubly appalling that the people of Japan must now suffer through the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown disaster. Even as the tragic events continue to unfold in Japan, President Obama presses ahead with his irresponsible plans to construct additional nuclear power plants in the United States. He has set aside $36 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power-plants in the U.S., and has also allocated $185 billion to “maintain and modernize” the U.S. atomic stockpile.

In 1979, Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), organized a series of “No Nukes” concerts in New York. Their concert at Manhattan’s Battery Park City landfill drew over 200,000 people. Musicians Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Gil Scott-Heron, Tom Petty, and many other notables were involved. No Nukes, a film that documented the concert series, was released in 1980. On August 7, 2011, MUSE will hold a benefit reunion concert of sorts, starring many of the veteran musicians from the ‘79 concerts, but also including new performers like Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, and Jason Mraz. The concert, to be held at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, will also be shown in a live video broadcast.

"A deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland." Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

"A deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland." Detail from the panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

Despite the undeniable contributions made by the aforementioned entertainers, it is the U.K. anarchist punk band Crass that set the standard - at least for this writer - for having created the most profound of all anti-atomic bomb songs, Nagasaki Nightmare.

The song was released just a year after the No Nukes concerts, but the piece of music was worlds apart in terms of aesthetics and attitude. In fact to this day most listeners will probably regard Crass’ opus as nothing more than irritating noise, however, as an avant-garde arrangement I regard it as perfect in every respect.

Having been a participant in the early L.A. punk movement, I still contend that punk from the late 1970s and early 1980s was on equal par to the best protest music of the 1960s, or any other period for that matter, and Crass’ doleful ode to the horrors of nuclear war and the bloodlust of national leaders is a perfect example of the punk aesthetic.

Crass released Nagasaki Nightmare as their second 45 single in August of 1980, and despite receiving absolutely no radio airplay, the record quickly reached the number one spot on the U.K. indie singles chart. The record was entirely self-produced and distributed by the band, and packaged in a marvelous wraparound sleeve with artwork by Gee Vaucher. The single also included a small silk-screen cloth patch printed with the Japanese kanji for “anti-war”, it is a patch I proudly wore pinned to my leather jacket for many years - I still have it in my possession.

Nagasaki Nightmare begins with the gentle sound of a traditional Japanese shakuhachi flute made of bamboo. The composition ends with the sound of a Japanese Buddhist Temple Gong being gently rung over and over; in the context of the overall piece of music it is the saddest sound imaginable, a bidding of farewell to tens of thousands who perished in atomic fire. What takes place between the opening and closing of the arrangement almost defies description; layers of spoken word and frenzied, panic-stricken vocals - a melodic high range female voice spouting poetic lyrics juxtaposed against a raspy male voice barking the refrain “Nagasaki Nightmare”; a relentless primitive base guitar line reminiscent of the patter of falling rain - only here I speak of radioactive black rain.

Midpoint in the song everything falls apart, the vocals become incoherent babbling; the utterances of a deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland, the frenetic guitar riffs and crashing drums evoking the flash of a nuclear explosion. Somehow the band managed to capture all of the terror of atomic warfare, as much as anyone could in a piece of music. To my knowledge no one has done this before or since - no one has even tried.

You can hear Nagasaki Nightmare on YouTube, where the lyrics can also be read. The song is also presented on the group’s “Best Before” compilation album, obtainable on iTunes.

An Exorcism at Tate Modern

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern, July 18, 2011. Screen shot from the You and I Films video - see below.

On July 5, 2011, I received word from Reverend Billy and & The Church of Earthalujah that he was taking his flock to London in order to “lay hands on the Tate Modern, and cast out the evil demon of BP’s oil sponsorship.” The good Reverend had been invited to the U.K. by activists groups Liberate Tate, UK Tar Sands Network, Rising Tide, Art Not Oil and Climate Rush, and he was scheduled to exorcise the Tate Modern on July 18th.

On July 16, BP announced yet another pipeline leak at its Lisburne oilfield on Alaska’s North Slope.

BP’s ruptured pipeline spilled some 4,200 gallons of crude oil, methanol, and water onto approximately 2,000 square feet of tundra. BP’s latest Alaskan oil spill only added a sense of urgency to Reverend Billy’s church service at the Tate. Of course, BP funds the Tate, but the oil giant also funds The British Museum, The National Portrait Gallery, and The Royal Opera House - not to mention the largest museum in my city, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Reverend Billy at the Tate Modern

Washed in the blood of the earth.

On Monday July 18, Reverend Billy and & The Earthalujah congregation began their 5:30 service at the Tate’s immense turbine hall.

As the faithful gathered in the museum vestibule, the good Reverend began to preach his fire and brimstone message, capturing the attention of hundreds of bewildered tourists and museum goers. As Reverend Billy’s Stop Shopping Gospel Choir sang songs of praise and parishioners cried out “Amen!” and “Earthalujah!”, Reverend Billy began to sermonize:

“Brothers and sisters, a dark beast lurks within the bosom of one of our most cherished arts institutions. While good-hearted, god-fearing, gallery goers glory in the miracle of art, the beast below is encircling the planet with its oily tentacles, destroying righteous communities, poisoning God’s beauteous creations, and bringing us all ever closer to the climate apocalypse!

Each and every one of us is a sinner! We let this happen to a great institution! British Petroleum, destroyer of the Gulf of Mexico, and Tar Sands over in Canada, and so much else around the world, cannot be sponsoring the Miró exhibit!

At this point the Reverend got down on his knees, lifted his hands to the heavens in supplication, and called out, “Wash Me!”, “Anoint me!”. Green robed members of his gospel choir stepped forward to pour what looked like oil over the Reverend’s head and body as he shouted out, “BP money is the Devil!” The theatrical anointing was followed by an even more histrionic exorcism. The Reverend and his congregation moved towards a BP logo emblazed on the museum’s wall, wailing, moaning, and speaking in tongues. The Reverend shouted out, “Each of us must make a decision - to exorcise British Petroleum from this place!”, then laid his hands upon the BP logo, finally pressing his entire oil soaked body onto the BP emblem, smearing oil over the wall and the insignia. Afterwards the entire congregation left the museum triumphantly singing “Earthalujah”.

A short rally was held outside the museum, where Reverend Billy made the following statement, “Art is a way for us to teach ourselves to see more, to see the visions held within things, to remember more, to imagine more, to become more sensitive to the world around us. Not the opposite. We have a responsibility here - this fossil fuel economy must end!”

An end to oil company sponsorship of the arts

In marking the one year anniversary of the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I signed a letter of protest along with 165 other arts professionals and activists that appeared in the Guardian on April 20, 2011. Titled Tate should end its relationship with BP, the letter calls on the Tate Gallery of London “to demonstrate its commitment to a sustainable future by ending its sponsorship relationship with BP.”

The letter reads in part:

“In the year since their catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP have massively ramped up their investment in controversial tar sands extraction in Canada, have shown to be a key backer of the Mubarak regime in Egypt and have attempted to commence drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. While BP continues to jeopardize ecosystems, communities and the climate by the reckless pursuit of ‘frontier’ oil, cultural institutions like Tate damage their reputation by continuing to be associated with such a destructive corporation.”

Signatories to the letter include the likes of writer and art critic Lucy R. Lippard, painter John Keane, artist and Stuckist co-founder Charles Thomson, artist Billy Childish, and many others. Anti-corporate globalization activist and author of The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, was also a signatory.

While directed at the Tate, the Guardian letter by implication calls upon all art institutions to end their partnerships with BP specifically and with oil companies in general. I first began writing about the relationship between BP and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2007. The Director of LACMA, Michael Govan, had just accepted a $25 million “gift” from BP, monies the museum would use in part to build a new entry gate, the ill-named “BP Grand Entrance”. That first muckraking article was followed by a multitude of other commentaries and critical essays that further exposed the saga of BP and LACMA; by the look of things this current post will not be my last entry on the matter.

Since the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico exactly one year ago, much has been learned about the oil company’s affairs. PLATFORM brought to light the oil giant’s close relationship with former dictator of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, now under investigation for ordering the murder of hundreds of protestors during the three-week long pro-democracy uprising that toppled his regime. Last February I wrote about the collaboration between BP and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi - a friendly and quite lucrative business relationship that culminated in a deal worth billions. On April 16, 2011, Al Jazeera published an in-depth report by independent U.S. journalist Dahr Jamail. His BP anniversary: Toxicity, suffering and death is about as excoriating an account of corporate and government irresponsibility likely to be found.

On April 19, 2011, The Independent published Secret memos expose link between oil firms and invasion of Iraq, a timely report that verifies the U.K. government was holding meetings with BP, Shell and BG (British Gas), on “post regime change” opportunities for oil exploitation - a year before the war on Iraq began. Minutes from one Nov. 2002 government meeting with BP noted; “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.” At another meeting held in Oct. 2002, the government’s Foreign Office Middle East director noted, “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in Iraq for the sake of their long-term future. We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.” Indeed, after the war, BP was awarded 20-year contracts on some of the largest of Iraq’s oil fields containing upwards of 60 billion barrels of oil.

Here the reader should be reminded that in a 2007 interview in the Los Angeles Times, LACMA Director Michael Govan offered a truly laughable justification for taking BP’s millions - he cited the oil giant’s “commitment to sustainable energy.” Since then Mr. Govan has fallen silent regarding the matter of BP sponsorship of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. One must ask why in all these years the Los Angeles Times has published only a single article that questions the wisdom of LACMA taking money from BP. Art critic Christopher Knight offered a mild rebuke of Govan in his May 18, 2010 article, BP Grand Entrance at LACMA looking not-quite-so-grand, but the article was hardly an in-depth critique that offered solid details on BP’s terrible record.

A protestor from the U.K. activist group, Liberate Tate, stages an intervention titled "Human Cost" at the Tate Britain on Wednesday April 20, 2011. Photo: anonymous.

A protestor from the U.K. activist group, Liberate Tate, stages an intervention titled "Human Cost" at the Tate Britain on April 20, 2011. Photo: anonymous.

Also occurring on the one year anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, artists from the U.K. activist group, Liberate Tate, staged an intervention they titled “Human Cost” at the Tate Britain.

On Wednesday April 20, 2011, a number of silent figures peacefully entered Duveens Hall of the Tate where the exhibit Single Form: The Body in Sculpture from Rodin to Hepworth is currently on display; the exhibit is part of a series of “BP British Art Displays” staged throughout the Tate.

A nude member of the Liberate Tate group assumed a fetal position on the floor in the middle of the room, while veiled comrades dressed in black poured what appeared to be oil over him from containers emblazoned with BP logos (the substance was actually ground charcoal and sunflower oil).

The motionless naked man, slick with viscous black goo, looked as if he were trapped in the globs of crude oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico by BP exactly one year ago. Eventually museum security directed  museum goers out of the room, placing a screen around the area to hide the action from public view. In due course the protestors left the museum and a clean-up crew dealt with the aftermath. To my knowledge there were no arrests. Photographs of the entire happening can be viewed here. A video produced by “You and I Films” documenting the “Human Cost” intervention can be viewed here. England’s Channel 4 also broadcast coverage of the event.

Sandra Paige, a participant in the intervention/performance, said the following about her group’s action; “It’s astonishing that Nick Serota and other Tate executives can be so blind to the horrific social and environmental impacts that BP is responsible for around the world. From the destruction of fisher folks’ livelihoods in the Gulf of Mexico, to the indigenous communities in Canada fearing for their very survival – the human cost of BP’s oil extraction is staggering.”

Terry Taylor of the Liberate Tate group said of the April 20 intervention; “Many important cultural institutions have been the victim of the government’s cuts in arts funding recently. The fact that many organizations will be actively looking for new funding means that the debate around the ethics of corporate sponsorship is more important than ever. Oil companies like BP are responsible for environmental and social controversy all over the world, and we can’t let their sponsorship of institutions like Tate detract from that fact.”

Flash mob "Sleep-In" protestors occupying the Tate Modern on Sunday, April 17, 2011. Screen-shot from the video shot by "You and I Films".

Flash mob "Sleep-In" protestors occupying the Tate Modern on April 17, 2011. Screen-shot from the video shot by "You and I Films".

April 20 was the culmination of a BP Week Of Action called by U.K. groups Liberate Tate, Art Not Oil, Climate Camp London, UK Tar Sands Network, Climate Rush, Indigenous Environmental Network, and London Rising Tide. Under the slogan of “BP and culture: time to break it off”, the groups held a number of public campaigns, the most amusing of which was an April 17 mass flash mob occupation and sleep-in at the Tate Modern, where some 100 protestors with BP-branded blankets, pillows, pajamas, teddy bears, and alarm clocks held a sleep-in among the art works. A video produced by “You and I Films” documenting the Great BP Sponsored Tate Modern Sleep In can be viewed on YouTube.

"Sleep-In" protestor at the Tate Modern - Sunday, April 17, 2011. Screen-shot from the video shot by "You and I Films".

"Sleep-In" protestor at the Tate Modern - Sunday, April 17, 2011. Screen-shot from the video shot by "You and I Films".

Gallery visitors were told that BP sponsorship of the arts was “sleep walking us into climate crisis” and “BP’s relationship with this gallery is one of the ways that BP buys our acceptance - it tries to distract us from the crimes against people, from the crimes against the environment, that they are currently conducting around the world. We are here because we believe that sponsorship is part of the massive PR offensive that BP is engaged in all the time.”

In reporting on the April 20 “Human Cost” intervention at Tate Britain, Channel 4’s Matthew Cain said the following; “An over-reliance on corporate funding of any description can lead to a climate of creative caution and conservatism, and at worst, fear.  There’s evidence of this in the US but, although our model of arts funding is slowly moving closer to the American model, so far there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of it here.”

Matthew’s comments are certainly stinging, and it pains me that here in the United States - where BP virtually destroyed the Gulf of Mexico - there are no mass protests marking the one year anniversary of America’s largest ecological disaster. This makes the signing of the Guardian protest letter by American artists that much more noteworthy. I am proud to stand with all those calling for an end to oil company sponsorship of the arts. Hopefully the April 20th actions in the UK will be an inspiring preamble to similar events in the United States.