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    Tate Faulted for Purchase From an Artist-Trustee

    Date: 20 Jul 2006 | | Views: 4417

    The Tate, one of Britain's most influential museum institutions, drew a sharp rebuke Wednesday from an independent regulatory commission for buying works of art from artists who are also Tate trustees.

    The Charity Commission, which oversees charitable organizations in England and Wales, said such purchases posed a conflict of interest. It opened an investigation after learning the Tate had paid the equivalent of $1.1 million in March 2004 for a 13-canvas work called The Upper Room by Chris Ofili. At the time Mr. Ofili was serving on the 12-member Tate board.

    The commission, which examined a total of seven acquisitions from 1997 to 2004 from five artists who were Tate trustees, said the purchases violated both the Tate's rules and national legislation requiring it to seek special permission for any such acquisitions. It also noted that the artworks were not independently valued.

    In any charity we would be concerned that such basic matters were neglected, but in a charity of the size and stature of the Tate, we were very disappointed, the commission said Wednesday in a statement. But it said it decided that the Tate could hold on to the works because they were beneficial to its collection and in the public interest.

    The Tate, which operates Tate Britain and Tate Modern in London, as well as Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives, is an independent nonprofit organization and currently receives $57.9 million annually in government aid. It answers to the Department of Culture, Media and Sports and to the Charity Commission.

    In a statement the Tate said it accepted the commission's findings. We accept that our procedures need to be modified, and we have already made significant improvements to strengthen our governance in this area, the Tate's director, Sir Nicholas Serota, was quoted as saying.

    By law 3 of the Tate's 12 trustees must be artists. Museum officials said the Tate had been acquiring works from artist-trustees since 1959 and had been unaware of the requirement to seek permission for doing so until last year, when an independent group of British artists, known as the Stuckists, drew attention to the Ofili case and suggested a possible conflict of interest.

    Among artist-trustees whose works have been acquired over the years are Roland Penrose, Howard Hodgkin, Patrick Heron, Anthony Caro, Peter Doig and Gillian Wearing. But the $1.1 million paid for Mr. Ofilis Upper Room was 10 times the amount of any previous purchase.

    The commission noted that, while Mr. Ofili absented himself when the acquisition of The Upper Room was discussed by the board, earlier artist-trustees had not withdrawn under similar circumstances. The artist-trustees had also not completed the registry where they are required to declare any relevant special interests. It is of major concern to note that these basic procedures for dealing with conflict of interest were not observed, the commission said.

    Sir Nicholas said he was pleased that no evidence had been found that Mr. Ofili behaved improperly and that The Upper Room, currently installed in its own gallery in Tate Britain, would remain in the collection.

    Nonetheless the media attention drawn by the Ofili case has proved deeply embarrassing to the Tate, which has acquired a particularly high profile in the British art world since the splashy opening of Tate Modern in a converted power station on the south bank of the Thames in 2000. Next week the Tate is expected to announce a major expansion of Tate Modern.

    In a separate statement, the Tate emphasized its statutory requirement to collect the work of living artists and to have three artists on its board. That artist-trustees have included prominent names like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth has in turn boosted the boards authority.

    The Tate said that its board had now pledged to seek permission before acquiring further artworks by trustees and had added an independent member to its ethics committee. The three artists on its current board are Anish Kapoor, Julian Opie and Fiona Rae; none have sold works to the Tate since they joined the board.

    By ALAN RIDING, The New York Times

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