Artists call for National Portrait Gallery to drop BP sponsorship

The National Portrait Gallery's annual BP Portrait Award opens on Wednesday

Gary Hume, a painter and judge of this years BP Portrait Award, has called on Londons National Portrait Gallery to drop the oil companys sponsorship. The annual exhibition opens on Wednesday.

In a letter to Nicholas Cullinan, the gallerys director, Hume expresses “discomfort about continuing to have BP as the sponsor of the award”. He says “there might once have been a case for partnering with BP, but its clear to me that that moment has passed”. Humes concern is that BP is “actively exacerbating” the current climate “crisis”, “with no plan to stop producing massive amounts of fossil fuels for decades to come”.

Hume, who is also a Royal Academician, acknowledges “how difficult fundraising is”, with a squeeze on both public and private sources of funding for the arts”. But in the case of BP, “this is outweighed by the need to act urgently on the climate crisis”. For him, “refusing to launder the oil industrys image is a step that the art world now needs to take”. Hume concludes that “as a first step”, the gallery should “no longer allow a BP employee to sit on the awards judging panel”. (For this years award, she was Des Violaris, BPs director for UK Arts & Culture.)

Eight artists who have exhibited in previous years, including Paul Benney, have also sent a letter of protest.

A National Portrait Gallery spokeswoman says that it respects the rights of others to express their views and is grateful to the judges of this years BP Portrait Award. Although a third of the gallerys income comes from government grant-in-aid, it works with “a wide range of companies” to help fund exhibitions and displays. The spokeswoman adds: “The sponsorship of the Portrait Award by BP is now in its 30th year. This support directly encourages the work of talented artists and helps gain wider recognition for them and enables free admission for the public.”

A BP spokesperson responds that the company is “taking action” to advance the worlds transition to a low-carbon future: “We are committed to being part of the solution to the climate challenge.”

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