Category: LACMA

LACMA, BP & the Oil Workers Strike

On February 1, 2015, 4,000 workers belonging to the United Steelworkers Union (USW), walked off their jobs at nine oil refinery and chemical plants across the U.S. By Feb. 10 another 1,400 workers went on strike at two refineries in Indiana and Ohio. The strike now effects 11 oil refinery and chemical plants used by BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, and Lyondell Basell, including those in California, Kentucky, Texas, and Washington. The USW represents 30,000 workers that run more than 200 refineries, terminals, and pipelines. The number of workers on strike and on the picket line is over 5,000… so far.

Workers on the picket line at BP refinery in Indiana. Photo courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana.

Which side are you on? Workers on the picket line at the BP refinery in Indiana. Photo/The Times of Northwest Indiana.

The workers are striking because of unsafe and dangerous working conditions. Their grievances include a stop to “daily occurrences of fires, leaks, emissions, and explosions, brutal and dangerous scheduling practices,” as well as layoffs, speed-ups, and the hiring of inexperienced non-union labor.

The strike kicked-off when talks collapsed with Shell Oil, which is leading the industry-wide negotiations. BP and the other oil companies are now hiring scab labor to keep their operations going.

The work stoppage is the largest nationwide strike in the U.S. since 1980. Addressing the public and fellow workers both unionized and non-unionized, the strikers made it clear that “138 workers were killed on the job while extracting, producing, or supporting oil and gas in 2012,” a number “more than double” the fatalities suffered in 2009. The workers charge BP and the other oil giants with cutting back on safety protocols and intensifying layoffs and speed-ups to keep profits high. Here it should be remembered that 11 workers were killed when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010.

But what does any of this have to do with the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art (LACMA)?

I have been writing in opposition to oil giant BP funding LACMA since the oily relationship was publicly announced in June of 2007. I wrote the following in a June 2010 blog post. It is a fair summation of my stance regarding LACMA director and CEO Michael Govan enthusiastically accepting money from BP; which he said was committed “to sustainable energy.”

“In 2007 Mr. Govan accepted $25 million from the oil company and in return the museum built the so-called ‘BP Grand Entrance’ on the LACMA campus. Every time an artist or arts group presents works beneath the BP Grand Entrance, it lends authority, respectability, and quiet approval to the machinations of one of the world’s biggest polluters; even if that presentation is of a ‘challenging’ nature – it nonetheless enables BP to present itself as a generous and ’socially responsible’ supporter of the arts. As one must pass through the BP Grand Entrance in order to enter the LACMA museum complex, BP has succeeded in placing its imprimatur upon every LACMA exhibit, not to mention its entire collection.”

I always viewed LACMA’s relationship with BP as an ethical dilemma for the arts community, from BP shaping an arts institution to LACMA being a partner in the oil giant’s “greenwashing” propaganda. However, the nationwide workers’ strike against BP adds a new wrinkle to the entanglement - revealing once more the difficult interface between art and capitalism.

Workers picket BP refinery in Indiana, Feb. 2, 2015. Photo courtesy of the USW.

Workers picket BP refinery in Indiana, Feb. 2, 2015. Photo/USW.

If thousands of workers are on strike against BP because of deplorable working conditions that are literally taking workers’ lives, and BP is a major contributor to LACMA… what then does that make the museum? Is it really an impartial institution? Does it actually need to be said which side LACMA is on - with the workers, their families and friends - or with BP? Can Michael Govan and LACMA really tell the public that the museum has nothing to do with politics or the strike, when LACMA takes BP’s money and museum visitors have to walk through the “BP Grand Entrance” to enter the museum?

And what happens if the workers’ national strike against BP and the other giant oil companies grows larger, drawing in the 30,000 workers of the United Steelworkers Union and affecting the 200 U.S. sites they work at? The union represents the workers that run nearly two-thirds of the oil refining plants in the U.S.

The largest nationwide strike in the U.S. since 1980. Photo courtesy of the USW.

The largest nationwide strike in the U.S. since 1980. Photo/USW.

In the glorious labor history of the United States, a movement that gave us the eight-hour day, higher wages, better working conditions, paid vacations, and other benefits… when workers called a strike, other workers and the general population supported it.

That is how the working class in America advanced, not through the largess and goodwill of a super-rich minority, but by workers making demands on them and uniting in the cause to create a better life for the majority.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art makes use of union labor, as well as non-union labor, together with what is euphemistically referred to as “volunteer” labor. Some 350 people are employed at LACMA, but there are also security, janitorial, maintenance technicians, and other contracted laborers that work at LACMA. In June of 2012, LACMA workers were fired as the museum looked for ways to “best deploy resources,” all the while spending $10 million dollars on the “Levitated Mass” project and paying director Govan an annual salary of $915,000 - twice the amount of a sitting U.S. president! What if workers at LACMA decided to walk off their jobs in solidarity with the striking workers who wage a life and death struggle with BP?

It has all happened before, you know.

LACMA & BP: Grossly Negligent

Dead fish floating in oil during the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster of 2010. Photo by Charlie Riedel for the AP.

Dead fish floating in oil during the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster of 2010. Photo by Charlie Riedel for the AP.

A monumentally important federal court ruling was quietly made on Sept. 4, 2014; it was a decision barely reported on by the national media.

On that date a federal judge in Louisiana found BP responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster of 2010, the worst oil spill in the history of the U.S.

The court also found the oil giant guilty of being “grossly negligent” in failing to conduct proper safety tests in the run-up to conducting deep sea oil drilling from its Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf, negligence that lead to the platform blowing up and killing 11 workers. The explosion resulted in some 4.9 million barrels of crude oil being dumped into the Gulf.

The ruling in the high-stakes trial presided over by Judge Barbier now opens the likelihood that BP will be forced to pay some $18 billion in fines for its violation of the Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972 as the principal federal law in the U.S. when it comes to water pollution. BP was quick to condemn the ruling, and announced plans to appeal the decision.

A sea turtle covered with oil during the BP Gulf of Mexico catastrophe of 2010. Photo courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

A sea turtle covered with oil during the BP Gulf of Mexico catastrophe of 2010. Photo courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

BP might want to refer to Michael Govan, the Director and CEO of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as a character witness.

Mr. Govan of course accepted $25 million from the oil giant in 2007, telling the L.A. Times at the time that he took funding from BP because: “What was convincing to me was their commitment to sustainable energy.” In its May 1, 2013 newsletter, LACMA informed the public that it was “pleased to announce” the renewal of BP’s corporate sponsorship. LACMA continues to tout BP as a corporate sponsor.

I first wrote about the relationship between LACMA and BP on March 14, 2007, and since then the oh-so-liberal L.A. arts community has remained stone silent when it comes to the issue of the world’s largest polluter funding the city’s leading art museum. Not so surprisingly, Michael Govan has refrained from issuing a single word of disapproval towards the oil-soaked, criminal benefactor of the museum he directs. Everything I have written on the subject of LACMA and its monstrous sponsor has been vindicated by the ruling of Judge Barbier, and I will not cease writing such articles until the relationship between LACMA and BP is finally terminated.

BP’s Oily 25th Anniversary

During a protest at London's 2014 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery, an anonymous artist, her face splattered with oil, stands before a portrait of Margaret Thatcher. Photo by Jen Wilton/Art Not Oil.

During a protest at London's 2014 BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery, an anonymous artist, her face splattered with oil, stands before a portrait of Margaret Thatcher. Photo by Jen Wilton/Art Not Oil.

I am one of 205 signatories to a letter published in The Guardian that asks the National Portrait Gallery of London, England to end BP funding of its esteemed annual competition and prize, the so-called BP Portrait Award. Published on June 24, 2014 the letter was timed to coincide with the museum “celebrating” 25 years of BP sponsorship.

The National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award of 2014 is an international competition. This year’s 2,377 entries came from 71 countries, including the United States. The event is also a major “Greenwashing” public relations campaign by one of the world’s leading polluters. Based upon my relentless criticism of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for accepting BP funding since 2007, the Art Not Oil coalition of the United Kingdom asked that I sign their protest letter. The letter read in part:

“As arts practitioners and those working in arts institutions, we feel that the time is right for the cultural sector to be discussing alternatives to income gained from oil sponsorship in the same way that discussions about ending tobacco sponsorship took place more than two decades ago. Figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called for an apartheid-style boycott of fossil fuel companies, explicitly mentioning cultural institutions. Art shouldn’t be used to legitimize the companies that are profiting from the destruction of a safe and habitable climate.”

Also commiserating the 25th anniversary of BP sponsoring the National Portrait Gallery is the U.K. arts activist organization, Platform (a member of the Art Not Oil coalition). Platform released a report titled: Picture This - A Portrait of 25 years of BP Sponsorship. The report details “25 of BP’s major environmental catastrophes,” one for each year that BP sponsored the National Portrait Gallery Portrait Award since 1989.

The Platform report, which can be read online or downloaded as a printable .pdf document, opens with the statement, “How bad does a company have to be before an arts organization refuses to be associated with it or takes its money?” This is a question for Angelenos as much as it is for Londoners. The report also includes Picturing the Future, an article by painter Raoul Martinez, a former participant in the BP Portrait Awards. Martinez makes his case for rejecting oil company sponsorship of the arts, stating that “We can no longer allow the celebration of human creativity to provide cover for environmental destruction.”

Screen shot of an anonymous activist from the Art Not Oil anti-BP performance at the National Portrait Gallery, June 21, 2014. Image courtesy of Clear Blue Films/Art Not Oil.

Screen shot of an anonymous activist from the Art Not Oil anti-BP performance at the National Portrait Gallery, June 21, 2014. Image courtesy of Clear Blue Films/Art Not Oil.

In the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the BP Portrait Award of 2014, dozens of art activists from the Art Not Oil coalition staged a June 21, 2014 silent performance inside the National Portrait Gallery that they called, 25 Portraits In Oil.

Gathering in the gallery and wearing white, 25 performers simultaneously poured what appeared to be oil on their faces. These individuals then scattered throughout the museum, taking up positions to mutely stand before various portrait paintings in the collection. A short video documenting the 25 Portraits In Oil intervention at the National Portrait Gallery can be viewed here.

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"25 Portraits In Oil" - Art Not Oil coalition, 2014

Another good example of arts activism would be the brilliant Reclaim Shakespeare Company, formed in response to BP’s sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012. The “Guerilla Shakespeare” troupe’s website cleverly alters the Bard’s famous Hamlet line into the slogan “BP or not BP.” They perform public art interventions in Shakespearian style at venues and events funded by the oil giant. Most recently they have criticized the BP sponsored exhibit Vikings, life and legend, held at the British Museum. The Reclaim Shakespeare Company not only invaded the museum to hold an anti-BP performance replete with Vikings brandishing BP logo emblazoned shields, they lampooned the official British Museum promotional video for the Vikings exhibit with their own parody video, BP Vikings - Pillaging the planet.

The artists and activists of the U.K. are to be commended for their creative and non-violent opposition to oil-industry sponsorship of the arts. But there is much work to do, especially here in “liberal” L.A., where not a single protest against BP sponsorship of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has occurred since that oleaginous relationship was established in 2007.

In my writings on the subject I have attempted to link BP’s sponsorship of LACMA, not just with environmental destruction, but with the wider topics of military adventures and imperialism (Iraq, Libya, etc); examinations of the debilitating supremacy corporate power exercises over the arts and democratic institutions, and the interlocking systemic nature of the crisis. These are just some of the questions that must be confronted if we are to succeed in righting the art world.

The Reclaim Shakespeare Company, zeroing in on BP as a company that devours the earth and gorges on its resources, reminds us all of the pertinent words of the Fool from Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear - “He’s mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf.

New Art at LACMA: BP Drones

I have been writing about the relationship between the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the British-based oil giant BP (British Petroleum) since March 2007. That was when LACMA underwent a complete renovation, and the museum’s director, Michael Govan, accepted $25 million dollars from BP to help in the construction. At the time Govan announced LACMA’s new entry way would be named “The BP Grand Entrance,” and justified taking BP’s money by saying, “What was convincing to me was their commitment to sustainable energy.”

Govan’s statement should not be read as a point of pride, but of shame. Three years later BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster occurred, leaking over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf; it would be the largest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. On June 9, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court refused BP’s request that its damage compensation payments of some $5.5 billion to businesses ruined by the Gulf disaster be stopped while the oil company appealed the original U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision calling for the payments. Trial proceedings slated for Jan. 15, 2015 will determine the fines BP must pay for their role in the Gulf catastrophe, fines that are likely to surpass over $20 billion dollars.

To this day LACMA proudly exalts BP as a major corporate sponsor. It is ironic that BP’s $25 million dollar donation to LACMA in 2007 was the exact amount the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made the oil company pay in civil fines for spilling over five thousand barrels of crude oil in and around Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope in 2006. The Prudhoe Bay Oil Field is operated by BP, it is the largest oil field in North America, but Prudhoe also looms large for another reason.

On June 10, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted BP permission to conduct drone flights over the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields. It is the very first government sanctioned, large-scale commercial use of unmanned drones in the United States. BP will use small “Puma” drones designed for the U.S. military to conduct surveillance on roads, equipment, and pipelines at Prudhoe Bay. The negative repercussions of increasing commercial drone flights in the U.S. should be obvious, especially in light of President Obama’s mass surveillance and killer drone programs, though it will all be presented in terms of being for “the public good.”

If you remember, the failed Jeff Koons Train “sculpture” for LACMA had a projected cost of $25 million. That boondoggle project entailed hanging a 70-foot steam engine locomotive from a 161-foot crane at LACMA’s BP Grand Entrance; Michael Govan equated the proposed monstrosity to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Train was only derailed by the U.S. financial crisis of 2008-2012. When LACMA’s endowments and donations plummeted from $129.7 million to $29 million in 2008-2009, the Choo-Choo Train project was pushed back to 2015. Since the U.S. has not yet recovered from the financial crisis, things are looking bleak for Train. However, there does seem to be a splendid, lower cost, alternative installation for LACMA, but I would be remiss not to first mention BP’s role in Iraq.

The financial news and opinion website, 24/7 Wall St., reported that oil production in Iraq “is now second only to Saudi Arabia” with oil production “of around 3.3 million barrels a day.” 24/7 Wall St. also reported that BP “has a 38% working interest in the Rumaila field in southern Iraq,” one of the “five largest oil fields in the world” with proven reserves of “nearly 18 billion barrels.” As of this writing, thousands of militants from the Al Qaeda-offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have succeeded in routing the U.S. trained and financed Iraqi armed forces in the north and west of the country. As worn-torn Iraq literally implodes, looking much like Vietnam during the 1975 fall of Saigon, BP is working like the dickens to get every last drop of Iraqi oil before it is too late!

Image: Unidentified artist, I always feel like somebody's watching me (BP Puma Drone), 2014, Puma surveillance drones, wire, and paint, 20 feet x 15 feet, British Petroleum Art Foundation, London; Gift of Bob Dudley (BP CEO, & Carl-Henric Svanberg (BP Chairman. © 2014 BP plc/Artists Have No Rights Society (AHNRS), International. Photo courtesy of Tony "I'd like my life back" Hayward.

Image: Unidentified artist, "I always feel like somebody's watching me (BP Puma Drone)," 2014, Puma surveillance drones, wire, and paint, 20 feet x 15 feet, British Petroleum Art Foundation, London; Gift of Bob Dudley (BP CEO, & Carl-Henric Svanberg (BP Chairman. © 2014 BP /Artists Have No Rights Society (AHNRS), International. Photo courtesy of Tony "I'd like my life back" Hayward.

Perhaps it is no surprise that the spin doctors employed by BP to continually present a forward-looking face for their client, have come up with a new direction for LACMA and BP to show their unity. Anonymous sources have informed me that LACMA is considering purchasing I always feel like somebody’s watching me (BP Puma Drone), a new kinetic sculpture created by an as yet unidentified conceptual artist. Rumored to cost substantially less than the $25 million Koons Train (though the actual purchase price has not yet been verified), I always feel like somebody’s watching me (BP Puma Drone) openly celebrates the sponsorship of BP. Slated to hang at LACMA’s BP Grand Entrance to welcome visitors, the outsized metal mobile is powered, not by wind, but by the electricity generated from the solar panels sitting atop the BP Grand Entrance. Constructed using four actual U.S. military Puma drones with 9-foot wingspans, the mobile’s drones are equipped with surveillance cameras and working propellers!

I always feel like somebody’s watching me (BP Puma Drone) will not only be in perpetual motion, providing a convivial attraction to museum goers, it will also provide unending surveillance of all patrons passing through the BP Grand Entrance. Given that LACMA is always on the cutting edge, arrangements have been made with the artist to assure the drones are outfitted with a newly emerging technology, 3-dimensional face recognition. Museum visitors who are LACMA members will be instantaneously scanned and identified by I always feel like somebody’s watching me (BP Puma Drone), allowing for immediate free access to all museum events! The recipients of the gathered intel cannot be divulged, but privileges do have their costs.

I always feel like somebody’s watching me (BP Puma Drone) will be a rare acquisition for LACMA, as it is a contemporary work of art that presents a clear, unambiguous message with social content. Inspired in part by the works of the American sculptor, Alexander Calder, the installation of I always feel like somebody’s watching me (BP Puma Drone) will coincide with LACMA’s exhibit, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic.

LACMA Halloween Nightmare

Alternative BP logo - Anonymous. Submission from the BP "Logo Makeover" contest sponsored by Greenpeace UK in May of 2010. © All rights reserved/Greenpeace UK.

Alternative BP logo - Anonymous. Submission from the BP "Logo Makeover" contest sponsored by Greenpeace UK in May of 2010. © All rights reserved/Greenpeace UK.

Hallowe’en… what fearfu’ pranks ensue! This October 26, 2013, the trendy vampires and way-out ogres of Los Angeles will shamble and hobble their way to the 10th-annual “Muse Costume Ball” thrown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

By a route obscure and lonely, haunted by ill angels only, the museum promotes their monstrous masquerade ball as “haunted by the ghosts of old Hollywood,” and entreats those who are fearless enough to attend, to “make your red-carpet debut and toast the town, but don’t be surprised if you feel some darkness lurking behind the red carpet.”

Oh yes dear baddies and cackling cacodemons, there are evildoing specters oozing, percolating, leaking, and bleeding all over the LACMA campus, and the foul spirits reek of viscous crude oil!

Ghoulies and harpies attending the Muse Costume Ball will be bedeviled, and distressed by various exhibits and art happenings in and around the unholy grounds of LACMA.

Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes will regale rapscallions and banshees alike with their clichéd sultriness, Theophilus London will get dem dry bones clattering with the type of rap so fresh that it makes a George Romero reanimated corpse look like a newborn, and Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group will do their very best to scare the bejesus out of bored, jaded, trend mongering, L.A. bon vivants. For youse jack-o-lantern headed, worm-eaten postmodern art loving goons, you can feast yer vacant eyes on Richard Serra’s Whatchamacallit, Bruce Nauman’s Gang Signs For Beginners, or Chris Burden’s super expensive Tonka Toy set, Metropolis I love you. Wow, all those performers and artists… really scary stuff.

Alternative BP logo - Based on Edvard Munch's artwork, "The Scream" © All rights reserved/Greenpeace UK.

Alternative BP logo - Based on Edvard Munch's artwork, "The Scream" © All rights reserved/Greenpeace UK.

A horrid night will be had by undead art superstars, devilish art critics, and other ne’er-do-wells, but perhaps the most disagreeable and ghastly evening will be had by none other than Michael Govan, the Director, CEO, and numero uno mischievous sprite of LACMA.

It is rumored that Govan will make an important announcement at LACMA’s Muse Costume Ball, the acquisition of a most important “land art” masterpiece from New York based conceptual artist, Bob Dudley.

Titled Massive Tar Mat, Dudley’s earth art magnum opus makes use of natural materials from the Gulf of Mexico; sand, shells, water, and a few lifeless sea creatures. The controversial work of genius is said to measure 165 feet long by 65 feet wide, and Govan has secretively kept the piece underwraps, though it is beginning to stink of petroleum and death.

Dudley’s Massive Tar Mat was purchased for an undisclosed price rumored to be as high as $18 billion. Much bigger and far more expensive than Michael Heizer’s $10 million boulder, Levitated Mass, Dudley’s tour de force will no doubt put LACMA on the map for worldwide art tourism. No-goodniks and wraiths at the Muse Costume Ball will breathlessly be anticipating the unveiling of Dudley’s masterwork.

Alternative BP logo  - Anonymous © All rights reserved/Greenpeace UK.

Alternative BP logo - Anonymous © All rights reserved/Greenpeace UK.

Meanwhile, there are those interfering and annoying do-gooders who just want to spoil a damned good night of mischief-making.

The California Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against BP for violating state law on handling hazardous materials and toxic waste, accusing BP of endangering public health by not properly inspecting and maintaining underground gasoline storage tanks for 750 California gas stations.

Oh come on, why be so upset about a little lethal waste? Besides, BP is a major contributor to LACMA, how can the museum keep telling people of BP’s “commitment to sustainable energy” with the state of California suing the oil giant?

But wait, there is more… paranormal events have been spooking LACMA’s grounds in the days just before the Muse Costume Ball. The disembodied spirits of the 11 workers killed when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 26, 2010, have been seen on the roof of LACMA’s “BP Grand Entrance.” Atop that wretched entry, the ghostly workers reenact desperate attempts to evacuate the burning oil rig that led to their demise. No doubt the specters will continue to haunt LACMA’s entrance as long as it bears such a hellish name.

Alternative BP logo  - Anonymous © All rights reserved/Greenpeace UK.

Alternative BP logo - Anonymous © All rights reserved/Greenpeace UK.

Museum patrons have reported that poltergeists have rebuilt the large reflecting pools of water that once graced LACMA’s grounds. Younger Angelenos will not remember the pools on Wilshire Boulevard that nearly surrounded the entire museum in its early years.

Because oil from the nearby La Brea Tar Pits continually seeped into those lovely pools, they were emptied of water and eventually filled in; a portent of LACMA actually becoming the oil museum. But since poltergeists love to plague and pester, they have created phantom pools containing not water, but tar balls and smelly petroleum.

Those who have seen the mirage-like black pools swear they contain horribly mutated sea creatures from BP’s Gulf disaster; shrimp born without eyes, clawless crabs, fish with oozing sores and other nightmares.

When on October 26, hipster hobgoblins, suburbanite zombies, and edgy demons with androgynous hair cuts try and make their way to LACMA’s Muse Costume Ball, they may well have to circumnavigate Bob Dudley’s malodorous Massive Tar Mat, a phantasm burning oil rig, and some really pissed-off mutant sea creatures in order to do so. Not to mention encountering the scary Attorney General of California gnashing her teeth out in front of the BP Grand Entrance.

Oh, and there is one more nightmarish thing to deal with, ticket prices. LACMA’s monster mash is not for bête noire proletarian miscreants, it is strictly for upper-crust bloodsuckers and villainess socialites. At $100 per general admission ticket, what is a poor working ghoul to do?

Ya know… creeps and bugaboos might be better off staying at home and watching reruns of The Walking Dead.

Celebrate Earth Day with BP!

One of the thousands of seabirds killed by BP's 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Photograph by Charlie Riedel © for Associated Press.

One of the thousands of seabirds killed by BP's 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. Photograph by Charlie Riedel © for Associated Press.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), sponsored by the multinational oil company BP - responsible for the biggest toxic oil spill in history, had the unmitigated gall to organize “greenwashing” activities on its museum campus for Earth Day.

Posting an announcement on the LACMA website for the April 21, 2013 Earth Day activities, the museum gave its day of programs the ill-chosen title, “Because Earth without Art is Just ‘Eh’”.

While LACMA invites people to walk through its “BP Grand Entrance” to celebrate Earth Day - Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana have filed lawsuits against LACMA’s oily sponsor over the incalculable damages their states suffered because of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. LACMA’s announcement reads as follows:

Earth Day: Because Earth without Art is Just “Eh”
Sunday, April 21, 2013 | 11 am

Celebrate Earth Day with a day of programs and activities designed for all ages, including artist-led workshops, tours of the collection for families and adults, a nature-inspired poetry workshop for adults, sketching from nature, music jam with instruments made of recycled materials, and a guided walkthrough of the natural art on campus. You and your freinds (sic) can organize your own community bike ride to LACMA! If you plan to travel to LACMA by bike on Earth Day, be sure to check out LADOT’s bike maps for a safe route.

*Does not include admission to Stanley Kubrick.

BP Grand Entrance l View full schedule | General museum admission is required; free museum admission will be granted to those with a bike helmet, or those who have traveled by alternative transportation.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, 5/1/2013, LACMA sent out its May newsletter to the public with a “Corporate Member Update”. In a single perfunctory sentence, the newsletter informed readers that the museum was “pleased to announce” the renewal of corporate sponsorship from BP. No further details were offered. Meanwhile, in the reality based community, people are paying attention to the ongoing “Clean Water Act” trial BP faces in New Orleans, Louisiana. The proceedings will establish whether BP was guilty of “gross negligence” in running its Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. If found guilty, the oil giant could face a $21 billion fine. A ruling is expected sometime in September.

BP, LACMA, & the Gulf Oil Spill

This June 3, 2010 photograph by AP photographer Charlie Riedel shows a seagull trapped in oil along the Louisiana coast after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This June 3, 2010 photo by AP photographer Charlie Riedel shows a seagull trapped in oil along the Louisiana coast after the catastrophic BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

With scarcely any coverage on televised news, multinational oil company BP pleaded guilty on November 15, 2012, to 14 criminal charges related to the death of 11 oil rig workers and the corporation having spilled over 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion in criminal penalties for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster - the biggest fine in U.S. history for the largest ecological catastrophe in U.S. history.

From a strictly monetary perspective, BP’s oil spill caused tens of billions of dollars in economic and environmental damage, but really, what are the lives of 11 oil rig workers actually worth in dollars? What is the true cost of the destroyed fishing industries that once thrived in the Gulf of Mexico? What dollar amount does one attach to the 68,000 square miles of ocean that BP covered in a massive oil slick? How does one put a price on the more than 6,000 seabirds, 600 turtles, and 500 dolphins found dead as a result of the spill? For answers to those questions, ask Michael Govan, the Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

In 2007 Michael Govan accepted a $25 million “donation” from BP on behalf of LACMA, stating publicly that the oil giant was a “green company”. After naming the entry way of LACMA’s newly renovated campus “The BP Grand Entrance”, Govan told the Los Angeles Times that he had accepted BP’s money since: “What was convincing to me was their commitment to sustainable energy (….) We won’t make the transition without the help and cooperation of these major corporations.” To this day Govan has not made a single public statement about BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster.

In the Nov. 15, 2012 announcement, BP pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts and three misdemeanor counts, one of which included the obstruction of the U.S. Congress. Separate and multiple damage claims are currently being sought against BP by several Gulf Coast states and private plaintiffs. Dead or dying seabirds and sea creatures are still being found in the Gulf. A recent study mentioned in Discovery News found that the two million gallons of chemical dispersant called Corexit used by BP to “clean up” the spill, mixed instead with the oil to become a “chemical cocktail” 52 times more toxic than the oil by itself. The toxic brew led to a massive die-off of microscopic aquatic animals that form a large part of the Gulf food chain. The impact on wildlife is incalculable. There is some evidence that BP’s “capped” undersea oil well continues to leak crude into the Gulf.

When making the Nov. 15th admission of guilt, Bob Dudley, chief executive of BP, said the oil company took “responsibility for our actions”, and that “since the spill, we have worked hard to rebuild confidence in the company”. To that reprehensible task, it appears that LACMA’s Michael Govan continues to lend his complete and unconditional support.

LACMA’s Levitated Mass at a Rock-Bottom Price!

Not long ago, while taking one of my periodic trips to the high desert country of California, I happened upon a colossal boulder straddling a stony crevasse. Walking through the gravel-strewn gulch directly beneath the huge rounded mass of rock, I recognized the great boulder as the answer to all my dreams of becoming a postmodern “land artist”.

As it turned out, the gigantic rock was located on private property, and after a friendly talk with the supportive landowner I easily secured rights to the rocky colossus; it remains in storage at its secret undisclosed desert location. I hope to sell my giant rock to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), but first, a little background on the story.

[The artist with his "Alleviated Masses" 100-ton boulder at a secret desert location storage area. Photograph by Jeannine Thorpe © ]

The artist Mark Vallen with his "Alleviated Masses" 100-ton boulder at a secret desert location storage area. Photograph by Jeannine Thorpe ©

If you have been hiding beneath a large rock you might be excused for not knowing that LACMA is spending around $10 million dollars to install a gigantic boulder near the museum’s Resnick Pavilion rear entrance. LACMA is constructing a 15-foot deep, 456-foot-long cement-lined channel over which a 340-ton, 21-foot high granite boulder will be placed. The “conceptual” art piece dreamt up by Michael Heizer will allow people to walk through the trench to see the boulder appear as if it were levitating - hence the title of the work, “Levitated Mass“.

Instead of paying $10 million for Michael Heizer’s 340-ton granite boulder, LACMA can purchase my 100-ton, 10-foot high boulder, titled “Alleviated Masses“, for the amazing low price of only $1 million - that is an incredible savings of $9 million dollars! With such a sweeping reduction in expenditure LACMA can take the amount left over to help create a critically needed first-rate arts curriculum for Los Angeles school children, put into action an expanded artist residency program, and have enough left over for the purchase of artworks from contemporary artists having a hard time due to the economic downturn.

Mr. Heizer’s rock sits in a Riverside, California quarry, swathed in protective plastic and mounted atop a specially constructed 196-wheel transport vehicle. It has waited for bureaucrats and lawyers from several municipalities to give permission for the rock to be moved; a tremendously expensive and hazardous project, for you see, the 340-ton behemoth will tie up traffic and close streets in 22 cities. It will traverse a 105-mile route at eight miles an hour before it reaches its trench at LACMA. By comparison transporting my mere 100-ton rock will be a fantastically simple matter: street closures and traffic jams will be avoided; money and resources will be saved by doing away with bureaucratic red tape; and with the price of gasoline nearing $5 per gallon the savings in fuel expenses alone will be substantial.

LACMA’s director, Michael Govan, told the L.A. Times that the rock in Mr. Heizer’s installation is “ultramodern because it’s self-referential and it’s about the viewer’s experience - it doesn’t represent some god, yet it has the timeless, ancient overtones of cultures that moved monoliths, like the Egyptians, Syrians and Olmecs.”

My boulder may very well be smaller than the $10 million dollar rock used by Mr. Heizer, but I am sure everyone will agree it is no less profound. It is undoubtedly one of the most ultramodern boulders to be discovered anywhere in the world today. With a price tag of only $1 million, my rock does not come complete with overtones of the ancient Egyptians and Syrians, but for the price its near perfect spherical form is nevertheless highly evocative of ancient Olmec monoliths.

Mr. Govan obviously likes to think big, which is clearly the reason he receives annual compensation of $915,000 - more than twice the salary of a sitting U.S. president ($400,000). Heizer’s Levitated Mass is not the only evidence of Mr. Govan’s grandiose way of thinking. Since 2007 he has worked with the King of Kitsch, Jeff Koons, to hang an actual locomotive from a 161-foot-tall crane to be installed on the LACMA campus. Titled Train, the project will ultimately cost $25 million, but it is currently on hold due to the worldwide crash of the capitalist system.

 Image: Mark Vallen, preliminary sketch for Alleviated Masses, 2012 ©

Preliminary sketch for Alleviated Masses, Mark Vallen 2012 ©

No doubt the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression has prevented Michael Govan from going forward with his Train project, so in the face of widespread unemployment and economic collapse Govan has wisely chosen to persevere with the less costly $10 million boulder.

All the same, perhaps the gargantuan un-carved rock is still a bit steeply-priced given the shaky economic situation; I humbly suggest that LACMA and Mr. Govan seriously consider purchasing my slightly scaled-down, easy on the pocket, land art installation - Alleviated Masses.

I enthusiastically await Mr. Govan’s inquiries, and sincerely hope my 100-ton boulder will soon have a new home at LACMA.

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 was 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. 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 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.