Aberdeen Art Gallery to press ahead with BP show despite protests

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The new-look Aberdeen Art Gallery is to go ahead with the hosting of a controversial art show funded by BP next year – despite the National Galleries of Scotland severing its links with the oil giant following environmental protests.

City council chiefs, who also accepted a £1 million grant from BP for the recently-unveiled revamp of the historic building, which was unveiled earlier this month after a four-year closure, said they were “proud” of Aberdeen’s role as “an international energy hub”.

Exterior view of the new-look Aberdeen Art Gallery PIC: Gillian Hayes, Dapple Photography & Hoskins Architects

Exterior view of the new-look Aberdeen Art Gallery PIC: Gillian Hayes, Dapple Photography & Hoskins Architects

BP was the biggest commercial backer of the £34.6m refurbishment and extension of the Victorian building, with the council agreeing to name a series of new exhibition spaces after the company in recognition of its £1m grant.

The National Galleries of Scotland confirmed on Monday that it would no longer be hosting the BP Portrait Award exhibition after a final run starting next month. The Scottish Government-funded body said the decision was made in response to concerns that its links with BP were seen by many people as being “at odds” with a responsibility to tackle the climate emergency.

The BP or not BP campaign, which has staged a number of protests at the Edinburgh gallery, responded by declaring: “We hope that the few remaining institutions that allow themselves to be used as greenwash for the industry join the National Galleries on the right side of history.”

However, a spokesman for the city council said: “Aberdeen Art Gallery will host the BP Portrait Award exhibition between October 2020 and January 2021 as planned.

“As an organisation, the council’s environmental responsibilities are of paramount importance and we are committed to continuing to play a leading role in addressing climate change. We have statutory responsibilities in that respect, but our commitment goes far beyond that.

“Aberdeen is also proud of its role as an international energy hub and the council values the relationships it has built over many years with the sector, recognising the contribution oil and gas has made to the economy not only regionally, but nationally. Our partnership with BP, a major supporter of art and culture in the UK, has contributed to the landmark redevelopment of Aberdeen Art Gallery.”

Alys Mumford, an activist with BP or not BP? Scotland, said: “We call on the Aberdeen Art Gallery to follow the lead of National Galleries Scotland and reconsider its relationship with BP.

“In the middle of a climate emergency, Scotland’s arts institutions should not be promoting oil corporations like BP.

“This is a company that spends ten of millions of pounds each year lobbying against climate solutions, and 97 per cent of its business is still in fossil fuels.

“We recognise the challenges that art and cultural institutions face, and so we also urge the Scottish Government to put in place sustainable funding for the arts across Scotland.

“If Scotland is truly to be a world leader on climate change, we must support sectors to divest from fossil fuels.

“This also means ensuring a just transition - guaranteeing people jobs in the green economy, and ensuring that our art institutions do not have to rely on oil money to survive.”