Another side of the mystery Tate/Ofili deal

How Tate bought The Upper Room remains shrouded in mystery and redactions


Despite “conflict of interest” issues relating to the Tate’s purchase of The upper room by trustee Chris Ofili (October 2005, p.25), there is another side of the acquisition story which has gone unreported.

When the installation of 13 paintings first went on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery in June 2002, around half the works were immediately reserved by buyers in Europe and the US.

Some weeks later the Tate said it wished to acquire the set, and all the buyers voluntarily relinquished their rights, in return for a first option to buy works at Ofili’s next show. Several even made financial contributions towards the Tate acquisition. Ofili also agreed to sell the complete work for £600,000, roughly half its market value.

Neither Ofili nor the Victoria Miro Gallery have been willing to comment on the purchase, and this together with the Tate’s refusal to release Ofili’s full “register of trustees’ interests” entry has led to critical press coverage of the acquisition process.

Prices of Ofili’s work have continued to rise, and, at press time, his 1999 painting Nooca was due to come up for sale at Christie’s London on 23 October with an estimate of £300,000-400,000.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'How Tate bought The upper room'