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Watchdog criticises Tate for Ofili purchase

The Charity Commission is now investigating all acquisitions made from artists while they were serving as trustees

The Charity Commission, which regulates charities in England and Wales, has strongly criticised Tate after its investigation into the institution’s purchase of a series of paintings by artist Chris Ofili while he was serving as a Tate trustee.

Tate broke the law by buying art from Ofili and other serving trustees, without authority from the commission. When the commission’s report was published on 19 July, its chief executive Andrew Hind commented: “In any charity we would be concerned that such basic matters were neglected, but in one the size and stature of the Tate, we are very disappointed.”

Seven acquisitions from serving trustees were found to have been made by Tate “without the legal powers to do so”. These were: Ofili’s The Upper Room (£600,000 in 2004), two photographs by Gillian Wearing (£53,000 in 1999), Peter Doig’s Echo Lake (£23,000 in 1998), Michael Craig-Martin’s Knowing (£20,000 in 1997) and two drawings by Bill Woodrow (£20,000 in 1997). However, the commission agreed that all had been acquired in the interests of Tate, and the acquisitions should therefore stand.

A further 13 works acquired from serving trustees in the 1960-89 period have also now come under investigation. These comprise works produced by Sir Anthony Caro, John Golding, Patrick Heron, Sir Howard Hodgkin, John Piper, Sir Roland Penrose, Adrian Stokes and Ceri Richards.

In the case of Ofili’s The Upper Room (by far the most expensive purchase from a serving trustee), special concerns were raised by the commission. The Tate board records show that trustees were aware of the price of the work, “but not the full cost to the Tate”, since the funding arrangements had not been finalised when the trustees accepted the acquisition on 19 November 2003. The minutes suggest that trustees “would take a final decision once other funding options had been explored”, but there is “no evidence that such a decision was ever taken”.

The commission also found that some trustees did not complete an entry in the Register of Interests. The Art Newspaper has found that Mr Ofili’s form was written out by Tate staff, and he then simply signed it (October 2005, p25).

As for the future, the commission says that all “purchases of art from serving trustees will require the Commission’s authorisation”.

Following the announcement, Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota said: “We have already taken action to address [the Charity Commission’s] criticisms. We accept that our procedures need to be modified and we have already made significant improvements to strengthen our governance in this area.”

Tate’s ethics committee is being strengthened and the gallery intends to “take further action to strengthen its governance” in relation to purchases from trustees. The gallery has also pledged to publish the cost of all works it purchases and the value of donations in its annual report.