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Nicholas Cullinan speaks at the National Portrait Gallery for the unveiling of a major new portrait commission of Sir Jonathan Ive by Andreas Gursky on October 4, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Darren Gerrish/WireImage for National Portrait Gallery)

London’s National Portrait Gallery Ends Its Partnership With BP

More than 30 years after it began, the National Portrait Gallery in London and BP have announced the end of their partnership. In a joint press release, the museum and the oil giant said that BP’s sponsorship, including its support for the Portrait Award, will end in December 2022, when the current contract expires.

The move comes after years of pressure by climate activists on the museum to cut ties with the corporation. In 2019, nearly 80 prominent artists—including 10 former competitors for the BP Portrait Award and five Turner Prize winners—signed an open letter written by former juror for the award Gary Hume, urging museum director Nicholas Cullinan to end the sponsorship deal.

That missive, which was co-signed by Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Sarah Lucas, Christian Marclay, Gillian Wearing, and Rachel Whiteread, called on the museum to reconsider its relationship with a company that is one of the world’s largest fossil fuel producers. “We believe that, today, the loss of BP as a source of funding is a cost worth bearing, until the company changes course and enables future generations to make art in a world that resembles our own,” it stated.

The letter cited NPG decision to distance itself from other ethically dubious sponsors like the Sackler family and tobacco company John Player. Similar letters issued in 2014 and 2017 called on the museum to end its relationship with BP.

“The Gallery is hugely grateful to bp for its long-term support of the BP Portrait Award,” Cullinan said in a statement to mark the end of the relationship. “Its funding for the Award has fostered creativity, encouraged portrait painting for over 30 years and given a platform to artists from around the world, as well as providing inspiration and enjoyment for audiences across the UK.”

Nicholas Cullinan speaks at the National Portrait Gallery for the unveiling of a major new portrait commission of Sir Jonathan Ive by Andreas Gursky on October 4, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Darren Gerrish/WireImage for National Portrait Gallery)

Nicholas Cullinan speaks at the National Portrait Gallery for the unveiling of a major new portrait commission of Sir Jonathan Ive by Andreas Gursky on October 4, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Darren Gerrish/WireImage for National Portrait Gallery)

According to statistics cited in the press release, over the course of the 30-year partnership, BP’s support for the Portrait Award allowed more than six million visitors to enjoy free access to the museum’s signature exhibition, and helped further the career of more than 1,500 portrait artists.

“We are immensely proud of our role in championing British arts and culture for over 30 years, but the bp of today is a very different company from when we first started our partnership with the National Portrait Gallery,” Louise Kingham CBE, senior vice president at BP, stated. “As we transition to become net-zero by 2050 and help the world get there too, we must look at new ways to best use our talent, experience, and resources.”

On Monday—just one day before the Portrait Gallery’s announcement—the climate activist group BP or not BP? staged a mock presentation at the opening of the British Museum’s “The World of Stonehenge” show, which is sponsored by BP. It offered up photoshopped images of Stonehenge as the site of oil drilling rigs. “The future meets the past,” read a banner as part of the satirical protest. “Are you ready for BP at Stonehenge?”


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