Radio news

Sell Out

3 September 2019

Is corporate money corrupting the art world?

The art world is saturated with brand and corporate money. There are big sponsorship deals, where companies underwrite cultural institutions like the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and the Tate in return for cultural prestige and hanging company logos over exhibitions. And alongside this, the half-hidden, lucrative world of artist-brand ‘partnerships’ or collaborations, where brands are not only underwriting artists' work financially but wrapping themselves around the creative process itself.

Patronage in the arts is nothing new, and with years of austerity public funding suffers. In today’s art world corporate money is vital. But companies and brands have their own agenda too, their own interests - what are they getting out of it? How much influence on the work commissioned and shown? Fossil fuel companies who sponsor the great public galleries, in particular BP, are being accused of using their association with the arts to divert public attention away from their environmental record - what is being called ‘art-washing’. Meanwhile there is growing unease that brands in general are becoming embedded in the art world, their commercial interests somehow concealed behind the work. Are there lines being crossed between art, ethics and commerce - should we be worried?

Journalist Ben Ferguson hears from artists including Nan Goldin, Gary Hume, Anish Kapoor and Unga from the collective Broken Fingaz as well as critics, curators, activists, educators and cultural platforms - and asks what the term ‘selling out’ really means in today’s art world.

Produced by Simon Hollis

A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4