Brilliant Art, Scandalous Conflict of Interest ; for the Tate to Have Acquired a Work of Art by One of Its Trustees Is Blatantly Improper
Hensher, Philip, The Independent (London, England)
Mr Chris Ofili is a very good artist indeed, and everyone should certainly go to Tate Britain to see his installation of 13 paintings, 'The Upper Room'. It is a spectacular take on the theme of the Last Supper, incorporating icons of other world religions, and presents a dazzlingly theatrical blaze of colour. There is no question about the quality of the work. But it shouldn't be in the Tate.
Mr Ofili is a trustee of the Tate, and, I am certain, a very effective and important one. Apart from his innate distinction as a painter, his commitment to, and interest in, non-Western cultures can only be useful to the Tate, considering its future direction. One of the main problems a museum like the Tate has is how to broaden its appeal outside its white, middle-class, middle-aged audience. Mr Ofili, who evidently engages with a very wide range of art, can only help provide solutions other than the painfully obvious ones.
In either role, Mr Ofili deserves our admiration. But none of that is remotely relevant to the extraordinary situation. For the Tate to have acquired a work of art by one of its trustees is blatantly improper; I cannot imagine how they thought that such a scandalous conflict of interest would go unnoticed.
Some of the correspondence relating to the acquisition has been made public, and it makes enlightening reading. In 2002, Mr Ofili's dealer, Victoria Miro, wrote to say that 'as Chris is getting married next week... I suspect he may be less willing than previously to wait for an extended period in terms of finance. Evidently, especially as Chris is a trustee, this is a sensitive situation.'
Although there is no sign that the Tate paid any attention to the consideration that Mr Ofili wanted a large sum of money in one go because he was getting married, this is an absolutely extraordinary letter to send to a publicly funded institution, and it makes one wonder about the tone of the negotiations as a whole.
If you try to imagine any other public body entering into comparable discussions " let us say a government department considering a PFI project, and deciding to award it to a company where the relevant minister sits on the board, and being asked to pay the fees up front because the minister was shortly getting married... No, it's completely inconceivable.
Though the sum of money paid for the work of art is hardly to the point, and it accurately reflects the value of Mr Ofili's work in the market, one might as well know that it was pounds 705,000. The Tate could not, or would not, pay that, and in the end contributed pounds 225,000, the remainder being made up by donations.
Nevertheless, the principle is the thing. Some amusement has been extracted out of the fact that Mr Ofili recently urged fellow artists to donate works of art to the Tate, with the implication that he ought to have done exactly that. …