One of this year’s Turner prize nominees has criticised the award’s main sponsor, Tate, for its handling of sexual abuse accusations against a prominent donor and the redundancies it made in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S) – one of five collectives to be nominated – released the statement via its Instagram account, saying they were grateful for the recognition but wanted to “name some of the inconsistencies as we observe them”.
The group highlighted the treatment of the artist Jade Montserrat, who claimed she was “banned” by Tate after she made allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour against the art dealer, Anthony d’Offay, who denies all accusations against him.
“We understand that we are being instrumentalised in this moment,” the collective wrote. “We ask ourselves: how can a BPOC queer collective of artists and cultural workers be nominated for the Turner prize whilst Black women artists continue to be silenced? Cases like Jade Montserrat’s are not isolated in the art world.”
Tate suspended links with D’Offay in January 2018 after the Observer revealed that he was facing allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour dating from 1997 to 2004. He denies the claims.
The gallery has since said it has severed all connection with D’Offay. In a brief statement it said: “Tate and Anthony d’Offay have agreed to end their relationship. This involves the return of works on loan to Tate from Anthony d’Offay and Anthony d’Offay Ltd and the removal of public signage at Tate.”
The collective also wrote about their concern over the redundancies made at Tate over the last 12 months. “Over the last year, there have been strike actions at several art institutions, including the sponsor of the Turner prize, Tate, protesting the redundancies staff have been forced to take,” they stated.
There have been two significant redundancy programs at Tate. The first came in August 2020, when it announced it was cutting half of its staff at Tate Enterprises Ltd, its commercial arm. In December there was a second wave of job cuts, with 120 roles at risk among its gallery staff as part of a £4.8m cost-cutting exercise.
“It is not lost on us that the collective action of workers coming together to save their jobs and livelihoods was not adequately recognised by Tate,” the collective stated.
The group – which is one of five art collectives nominated alongside Array Collective, Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical, and Project Art Works – was also critical of the turnaround time for the prize’s accompanying exhibition – work needs to be ready for a September opening in Coventry.
B.O.S.S said this highlights the “extractive and exploitative practices” in prize culture and across the industry, where “Black, brown, working class, disabled, queer bodies are desirable, quickly dispensable, but never sustainably cared for”.
Tate responded by saying it was committed to championing the work of artists and “always welcome critical dialogue and engagement” and was delighted that B.O.S.S accepted the nomination.
It added that because of the greater number of artists involved in the prize this year, all the shortlisted collectives are each receiving £10,000 for their participation, rather than the £5,000 given previously.
An exhibition of the five collectives’ work will run from 29 September, with the £25,000 winner announced at an award ceremony at Coventry Cathedral on 1 December.