Ofili controversy at the Tate will lead to greater openness

After Tate resisted the release of the sums paid for Ofili's 'The Upper Room', Tate will now more often disclose the price of works bought from artist-trustees.


The Charity Commission is examining how the Tate has dealt with the potential conflict of interest in buying The upper room from trustee Chris Ofili. Last month a commission spokesman explained: “We are in contact with the Tate. Once we’ve fully considered the information, we will be in a position to give a view.” A substantive response is expected later this month.

Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota has also been in discussions with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and he had a further meeting with permanent secretary Dame Sue Street early last month. DCMS is apparently satisfied with the action which Tate is taking over the Ofili affair, although it is concerned about the impact on the gallery’s image.

It now seems increasingly clear that Tate will in the future normally disclose the sums paid for purchases from artist-trustees. On 24 November it was confirmed that the following works had been purchased in recent years: Michael Craig-Martin’s Knowing (bought in 1997 for £20,000), Bill Woodrow’s Wilson’s Phalarope and Untitled (bought in 1997 for £20,000), Peter Doig’s East Lake (bought in 2002 by trustees for £19,600) and Gillian Wearing’s Theresa and and Signs series (bought in 2000 for £53,500). Ofili’s The upper room had been bought in 2004 for £600,000. Initially the Tate refused to disclose the price, although it did so in late October following a Freedom of Information Act request.

Although the Tate has been resisting the release of prices, on the grounds that this inhibits its ability to secure discounts, other galleries often reveal the prices of contemporary acquisitions. To take a few recent examples: the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art paid £31,500 for Martin Creed’s Work No.370: balls, Aberdeen Art Gallery paid £13,714 for the photograph Jesus is condemned to die by Damien Hirst and David Bailey, and Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art paid £42,000 for Simon Starling’s Tabernas Desert run (on show in the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain until 22 January).

Meanwhile, the name of the Tate artist-trustee who will replace Ofili, following the end of his term of office, was expected to be announced shortly. The Tate board accepted the proposed choice on 16 November and the name then went to prime minister Tony Blair for his approval.

Originally appeared in the Art Newspaper as 'Ofili controversy will lead to greater openness'