National Portrait Gallery and BP Concludes Long-Standing Partnership Amid Protests

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For 30 years, the National Portrait Gallery and BP have been in a long-standing partnership. However, they recently announced that they would no longer extend their collaboration past December 2022, when their contract concludes. 

“The gallery is hugely grateful to BP for its long-term support of the BP portrait award,” said the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Nicholas Cullinan. “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.” 

BP has backed the award for three decades; the partnership, however, has recently been put under tension, as it faced several protests as part of an extended and high-profile campaign against big oil’s implication in the arts. 

Five previous Turner prize winners—Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Anish Kapoor, Gillian Wearing and Mark Wallinger—were part of approximately 80 prominent artists, counting BP portrait award winners, who sent a letter to Cullinan in 2019, urging him to separate from BP. 

They wrote that it was imperative to guarantee the gallery continues to be a “forward-looking institution that’s on the right side of history.” 

A year after that, BP was dismissed from the judging panel of the £35,000 portrait award for the first time since 1997. 

“We are immensely proud of our role in championing British art 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. 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,” said senior vice-president at BP, Louise Kingham, Tuesday. 

The move was “clearly a vote of no confidence in BP’s business” by the gallery, according to a pressure group Culture Unstained. 

“The company spent 30 years painting a picture of itself as a responsible philanthropist, but it is rapidly running out of places to clean up its toxic image. Even now, it continues to invest millions in finding new sources of oil and gas, which will only push the world deeper into climate breakdown,” stated co-director of the group, Jess Worth. 

The campaign that stands opposed to fossil fuel corporations’ sponsorship of the arts has progressively continued in previous years up until now as concerns ascend over the magnitude and gravity of the climate issues.

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