TATE BUYS TRUSTEE CHRIS OFILI'S THE UPPER ROOM FOR £705,000
This site first drew attention to the fact that Chris Ofili, whose work The Upper Room was a major purchase
by the Tate trustees, is himself one of those trustees, who had earlier asked other artists to donate work.
Pages on this site about the Chris Ofili Upper Room Tate trustee scandal
Intro • Censure • Press • Jon Snow censored • Trustee minutes: Jan + May 2003 - Jul 2003 - Nov 2003 - Jan 2005 • Trustees • Letters - Dossier to Charity Commission and DCMS - to Chris Ofili - to Paul Myners - to Tate Legal • Questions • Background • Poem
LETTER TO PAUL MYNERS
Dear Mr Myners
I have recently written to Tate to ask for the purchase price of a recent major acquisition, The Upper Room by Chris Ofili. This request has been denied on grounds which do not stand up to analysis (see letter attached).
I suggest that the real reason the figure has not been revealed is that Tate is aware that it would lead to public scrutiny and would be likely to draw criticism from some quarters. This of course wouldn’t be stated, and anyway is not a valid reason for non-disclosure under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.
The concern over such a likelihood is shown in the notes for Collection Committee and Trustees’ meeting, dated June 2005, “Offer of gift of works by Stuckist artists”, which states:
“The offer will be declined..... The likelihood that the group will seek to generate negative publicity as a result of this response necessitates this matter to be reported to the Collection Committee. The Committee is also asked to endorse this position.”
The Stuckists are indeed known to be able to command media interest. However, the telling point is that Tate feels the need to act in a more cautious way because of this, with the obvious implication that artists not able to engender such attention would be treated differently. I suggest the fear of public scrutiny should not be a factor to modify institutional procedures, and, if it is, then it suggests a deficiency in the procedures or their administration.
Furthermore the term “negative” is used pejoratively of public comment which is challenging to Tate’s behaviour or policies. It is only right that a public body should be subject to questioning on its behaviour, particularly in the case of Tate when there is a large body of public opinion which does not agree with many of its policies.
There is even more need for transparency in the case of the “exceptional” purchase of a serving Trustee, Chris Ofili’s, work, especially as last October, when Tate launched its “Building the Tate Collection” initiative, Ofili wrote in The Guardian “as a trustee” endorsing the appeal for other artists to donate their work, without any indication that Tate was in the process of raising a major sum to purchase his own.
There would certainly seem to be a case to answer here and the need for public scrutiny of the full circumstances surrounding this purchase, which at the moment still leaves unanswered questions and cannot but raise the suspicion of dubious conduct. Tate seems to want to avoid such scrutiny.
It is precisely because of equivalent conduct in the business world that you have, in another role, on a number of occasions strongly advocated the need for transparency and accountability, not least in your report to HM Treasury in 2001, “Institutional Investment in the United Kingdom”. This states, amongst other points:
11.3 ......a model for good practice, coupled with robust disclosure requirements, can act as a powerful force for behavioural change.
65. The review therefore proposed that there should instead be a regime based on transparency and disclosure, exposing the scheme’s funding and investment plans to scrutiny. Each defined benefit pension fund would be required each year to set out the state of the fund and future plans for paying pensions in a ‘transparency statement’. The process of having to prepare a statement of these matters would encourage trustees to think carefully about whether their investment strategy is sound. Making it publicly available would expose it to public scrutiny. [my italics]
Indeed you are reported in The Guardian (5 November 2001) as equating a lack of openness with corruption. Presumably principles which apply in the private sector should be equally as stringent, if not more stringent, in the public sector. Withholding details of the amount spent on a major acquisition is not openness.
A significant opportunity for openness is the publication of Trustees’ minutes, which are now appearing on Tate website. However, these are slight to the point of concealment.
Extracts I have received from Tate from minutes, written before the Freedom of Information Act necessitated their public display, suggest that there has been a reduction of their fullness since the implementation of the Act. I suggest that the current minutes are not a full and accurate record of the proceedings.
A signal example of this is the rejection of the Stuckists’ donation. I have a curator’s report on the donation dated June 2005, presumably scheduled for the July meeting, when the rejection of the offer was ratified by the Trustees’ meeting. This document is headed “7.11 Offer of a gift of works by Stuckist artists”.
Sir Nicholas Serota wrote to me on 22 July to say that the curators’ report on the Stuckists’ offer had been presented to the Board of Trustees (and rejected). I presume his statement on this matter can be trusted. The July minutes, however, contain no reference whatsoever to the offer or any report on it. There is no record of any debate, discussion, questioning or vote in any way. I fail to see how you can endorse the minutes as a full and accurate record, when they quite clearly are not.
If this incident, which was part of a meeting, has simply been ignored for the record, it leads to the question of what other proceedings have been censored.
Even certain items which are recorded are done so with such brevity that it would not meet the standards of a local amateur society, let alone a major public institution. Point 10 “Acquisitions for Decision (agenda item 12)” is minuted as: “The Trustees approved the proposed acquisition.” There are no details recorded about this acquisition, yet presumably such details (i.e. the title, the artist, an image or description of the work and the price) were made known to the Trustees as an important aspect of their approval, and should therefore be recorded for the “public scrutiny” which you endorse.
The same applies to point 9 “Acquisitions for Noting (agenda item 11)” with the only record being “Trustees noted the acquisitions.” In fact, the formulaic response “Trustees noted...” is applied to many items, giving the impression that Trustees do very little at the meetings, apart from a continual unresponsive observation of whatever is put before them. It is hard to believe there is not more inquiry from them which is simply not recorded - presumably for fear of more public scrutiny or “negative publicity” as Tate might put it.
Extracts I have received of minutes, written prior to the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and the necessity of minutes being made available to the public, are certainly far more forthcoming, and read as the record one would expect. The July 2003 minutes, for example, record the withdrawal of a private collector, who at one point was going to become a joint purchaser with Tate of Ofili’s group of paintings in The Upper Room installation. It records:
“Jon Snow wondered whether [REDACTION]’s withdrawal reflected a change in the market value of the group, but Nicholas Serota assured him that this was not the case: that Victoria Miro had secured a group of benefactors, including [REDACTION], to enable the acquisition reflected the considerable interest.”
I was supplied with what is stated to be an extract from the minutes of the January 2005 meeting. It ran: “7.7.12 Chris Ofili, The Upper Room 1999-2002, The Trustees noted the position”. This does not appear in the minutes online, which read: “7 ACQUISITIONS Trustees noted the acquisitions financial statement, and in particular the relatively few prior commitments to next year’s acquisitions allocation. The position in which this situation placed Tate – of being able to pursue causes much more proactively – was welcomed. Indeed, the list of causes presented for Trustees’ consideration reflected this position. The contents of the acquisitions booklet were noted and the relevant acquisitions approved.”
Nor is there any record of Ofili, who was present at the meeting, leaving it while “the position” of his work was “noted”, though presumably he should not have been present. There is no record of Ofili leaving any of the Trustees’ meetings this year.
Although his work was fulsomely discussed and the discussions minuted prior to the implementation of FOI in January 2005, since that date there has not been one specific reference in any of the four meetings (January, March, May and July) which have been held.
According to the minutes, nothing was communicated to the Trustees about the progress of this major purchase, nor did they make any enquiry or comment about it.