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Should we boycott the Zabludowicz Collection?


#1

Image via Mute

Mute has published a statement by the group Boycott Zabludowicz to, well, boycott the Zabludowicz Collection due to their ties to Israel and arms dealing. Here is their argument:

  1. Art and Art Patronage
    Who are the Zabludowiczs and why do they need to be boycotted immediately? The answer: Guns + Real Estate → Israeli State = London Art World. The answer: The Zabludowicz Foundation has played a central role in supporting emerging artists in London over the past few years, but their cultural ‘patronage’ isn’t as selfless as it seems. It involves laundering some very dirty money through the labour pool of young , London-based artists. As the public-relations front end for historically one of the largest suppliers of arms to the Israeli state and Chairman of the UK based Pro-Israeli Lobby group Bicom, the Zabludowicz Foundation represents a direct link between the opportunities for careers in art for young people here in London and the current bombing and ongoing genocidal oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
  1. How did Zabludowicz get so rich?
    Short answer: through arms dealing and, subsequently, property development. Zabludowicz’s fortune derives from the Tamares Group, which has large real estate interests and casinos. Earlier his activities were coordinated through Soltam, the Israeli arms manufacturer set up by his father Shlomo Zabludowicz, who sold arms to the Israeli Defense Forces.

Via his chairmanship of the Pro-Israel lobby group, Bicom, Zabludowicz has a pivotal role in shaping opinion formation in both the UK media and parliamentary spheres. This gives him a say in the determination of UK-Israeli relations. Via his real estate interests, he helps to assert Israeli control and sovereignty over Jerusalem. Apart from his activity with Bicom, Zabludowicz also makes large donations to the Conservative Party.

  1. What can you do? Boycott!
    We call upon artists to uphold the BDS / PACBI guidelines and to boycott the Zabludowicz Collection. We ask artists, cultural workers and producers not to sell or show their work with the Zabludowicz Collection in the future and/or to withdraw the ‘conceptual content’ of their work from the Collection. We ask artists to respond to BDS/ PACBI and refuse to sell their labour to the Zabludowiczs or to those operating in their network of interests.

We cite the PACBI guidelines and reiterate that these campaigns have called for a ‘picket line’ to be formed around Israeli-affiliated cultural institutions internationally. We support this demand in recognition of the fact that these institutions are ‘complicit in the Israeli system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law, or has hampered their exercise of these rights, including freedom of movement and freedom of expression’. ‘Cultural institutions’, the guideline states, ‘are part and parcel of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people’. 1

We call on artists not to scab and to act in solidarity.

This is direct solidarity with the communities under assault in Gaza, victims of state terror on both sides, and with resistance movements in both Israel and Palestine.

  1. Rise of private funding in London
    The decline of public funding, along with the ongoing capture of public funding by the neoliberal dogma of ‘philanthropy’, has the same toxic effect today that it has always had: glorifying the rich, whether directly or ‘autonomously’, becomes the task of art, while government cutbacks structurally and ideologically legitimate the social inequality and exploitation which makes people rich enough to ‘donate’ money to the arts. While neither private capital nor the state can offer autonomy to artists or anyone else, it is still possible to distinguish between sources of support.

For anyone involved in the field of contemporary art, boycotting Zabludowicz is not a piece of moralizing theatre. It is a withdrawal of labour. The Zabludowiczs’ have enough friends in high places; you don’t need to do their PR for them. And that’s all participating in Zabludowicz-funded projects is – PR and the desperate bleaching of some very nasty money.

  1. Patronage vs Autonomy
    Some people may want to shrug their shoulders and say that, in the end, it doesn’t matter where the money comes from, so long as something good can come of it: art. But what kind of art? Artists need to recognise that the places where their work is exhibited, the money that makes it possible, and the interests it can be made to serve all make up a part of its aesthetic content. Even the most ‘autonomous’ or ‘critical’ artwork exhibited in the Zabludowicz gallery instantly transforms itself into the merest piece of tinsel trailing off the back of the freight ships that even now are transporting the weapons that will be used to murder more Palestinian civilians.

Aesthetics and organisation are not comfortably separable. Should private patrons seek to fund the arts, then we welcome them to close their institutions and unconditionally to deliver over all their money, property and resources to artists and everyone else, who can perfectly well distribute, self-administrate and self-organise themselves: We want the money!

Further Links:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/04/bisco

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/04/bisco

http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/news/36377/?utm_c

https://www.academia.edu/5061190/The_Britain_Israe

http://www.artiscontemporary.org/features_detail.p

http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/aug/05/tricy

http://www.trayner.org/boycott_web.pdf

http://www.pacbi.org/index.php

http://www.bdsmovement.net/

What are your thoughts on this? It seems like artists in London are reticent to speak out about this because Anita Zabludowicz buys so much emerging art, and everyone probably has a friend who has shown there. What is at stake in boycotting–or not boycotting–the Zabludowicz Collection?

Continuing the discussion from What are the best texts on the politics of refusing “dirty money” in the arts?:


#2

If this is about cleaning up Arts money and against art-washing in general, why pick on Zabludowicz? If its specifically about Israeli occupation, perhaps more info is needed here on how the real-estate is involved (otherwise, why pick on Zabludowicz)? I’d rather see a wider list of organisations targeted, basically.


#3

I hardly think that anyone is picking on Zabludowicz, and even if they were, they can take it. I think that Zabludowicz is a perfect case study for conversations about questionable funding in the arts because they have such a transparent, direct link to crimes against humanity.

It would be great to see a broader list of organizations targeted, but unfortunately dirty funding sources are usually emphatically not transparent. I think that we can get collectively process a lot of conflicting thoughts about this by using Zabludowicz Collection as a case study. And while it may be awkward for people who have sold work to Zabludowicz or worked with them before, I think the worst case scenario is for us to remain quiet about this because of social pressure.


#4

Karenarchey I mostly agree (surely though this is about picking on Zabludowicz?) but I don’t know what a boycott on Zabludowicz means for people like me that don’t have any contact with them anyway. So having gathered here, I’m now trying to process those thoughts. The causes of Palestinian oppression aren’t localized to the Israeli state, and I don’t think a boycott in support of Palestine should focus on Israeli institutions alone.

Turning back to what “Say No” means for me, I do know people involved with Zabludowicz, and obviously I can write to them and make sure they know where the money came from, and tell them that there are alternative support networks if they choose to “Say No” (I’ve spoken to one person already). It doesn’t seem fair though to make this request of Zabludowicz people, when its not made of others. US/UK oil requirements (and foreign policy in general) are also to blame for the Palestinian situation. Some will say that Israel is more to blame, but they wouldn’t be able to act with such impunity in the first place without US backing. Might it be desirable also to ask friends to turn down BP-sponsored Tate shows for Palestinian solidarity, or to boycott shows at American-run galleries? The public/private patronage situation doesn’t mean someone can refuse Zabludowicz and then walk across the street to sell work, so boycotting Zabludowicz alone makes more (career changing) demands on some people than others (and not at all on me).

Where I’ve tried to point out the dirt in other funding sources on the “Say No” facebook page, in the Arts Council, for instance, or Deutsche Bank (as semi-spurious examples), I’ve found people saying “no, this is about Zabludowicz and Israel, we should focus on that”, but my opinion is that the causes are wider and boycotting Zabludowicz as an isolated case (whilst being a good gathering point and for the right reasons), is not going to matter to very many people, and the people it does affect will have recourse to arguments about fairness, for starters (I’m just going to say use your imagination here). I’m also interested in practical questions, as Zabludowicz gives money to various other institutions, will these institutions be asked to cut ties? Will they be boycotted? Are we ready to increase our own funding contributions to make up the short-fall?

Volunteering time to institutions willing to clean-up their funding (dropping Zabludowicz money for instance), would of course displace a source of paid-employment for many young artists (and non-artists), but it could offer a preferable source of arts funding to private patronage and still be launched in support of Palestine. That reduction in art-gallery employment at multiple institutions is what refusing Zabludowicz money might really mean, and to me it seems a fairer and more effective way to spread the burden of refusal than if we stopped at asking the few people actively showing work at Zabludowicz’s gallery to give up their show.


#5

Something similar can be said about state funding. For example, France is the largest exporter of arms in Europe and its client-base in Africa, the Middle East and Russia is heavily involved in the business of war. The State of France is also a supporter of the arts. Similarly, it isn’t clear why the arms trade is ethically worse than the pharma industry (e.g. the LUMA Foundation/Maya Hoffman), which actively exploits its power position in ways that kill millions. This is by no stretch a “defense” of Z’s and their business but it just seems that we need a much more nuanced approach to structuring a relationship between art and its funding. This absolutely needs to happen because not only will this resolve the art field’s relationship to ethics/politics in an honest strategic manner but might also make the art field a less volatile place to work in as a practitioner.