Some people feel that it is inappropriate for institutions like Tate or the British Museum to accept money from an oil company responsible for such environmental disasters as the Sea Gem oil rig collapse (1965), the Texas City Refinery explosion (2005) and the Deepwater Horizon well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico (2010).
However, as the firm is keen to stress, BP means "Beyond Petroleum". Associating itself with art and culture is therefore good for business.
But is it good for society?
Recipients of financial support - be it in the form of public grants or private sponsorship - need to guard against undue influence or censorship. A cautionary tale is provided by this year's Lacoste Prize at the Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland. Despite claims to the contrary, it appears that pressure from the sponsor has led to the cancellation of the award.(2) This seems to have been triggered by the Jerusalem-born artist Larissa Sansour and her artwork, Nation Estate (2011-12). Inspired by Palestine's bid for nation status at the UN, Sansour has opted to imagine a dystopian vision of a future world in which the
Palestinians have their state in the form of a single skyscraper: the Nation Estate.
Surrounded by a concrete wall, this colossal hi-rise houses the entire Palestinian
population - finally living the high life. Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem, third floor;
Ramallah, fourth floor. Intercity trips previously marred by checkpoints are now made
Aiming for a sense of belonging, the lobby of each floor re-enacts iconic squares and
landmarks - elevator doors on the Jerusalem floor opening onto a full-scale
Dome of the Rock. Built outside the actual city of Jerusalem, the building also has
views of the original golden dome from the top floors.(3)
Executives at Lacoste felt that all this was a far cry from the competition's theme of happiness ("joie de vivre"). Lacoste's sweet little "green crocodile logo" was clearly about to lose its cheeky grin.(4) So the company sought to close the elevator doors on Larissa Sansour's Nation Estate.
If this was their intention, then the opposite has transpired. I would never have heard of Larissa Sansour or her thought-provoking sci-fi skyscraper without the helpful intervention of Lacoste.
So perhaps private sponsorship isn't such a bad thing after all?
(1) Mark Brown, "Galleries renew £10m BP deal despite environmental protests", Guardian, 19/12/2012, accessed 22/12/2012 at, http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/dec/19/galleries-renew-bp-deal-protests.
(2) "Lacoste Prize cancelled amid censorship row", BBC News, 22/12/2012, accessed 22/12/2012 at, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16299688.
(3) "Nation Estate", accessed 22/12/2012 at, http://www.larissasansour.com/nation_estate.html.
(4) "Lacoste logo", accessed 22/12/2012 at, http://www.famouslogos.us/lacoste-logo.