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Oil and Art Do Not Mix

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On a recent cold night in Trafalgar Square, a group of 30 or so people rehearsed a new piece of musical theater in front of Britain’s National Gallery of Art. But if the venue was highbrow, the production — including sinister characters and lyrics such as “A gallery of art-wash … to benefit the oil boss” — definitely was not.

It was being staged by the environmental group Art Not Oil, and the target of their satire was a Rembrandt exhibition, sponsored by the oil and gas company Shell.

Much like institutional investments in fossil fuel companies in the US, funding from companies like Shell has become a contentious issue in the British art world. Museums and opera houses say they need the money to make ends meet these days, but groups like Art Not Oil believe sponsorship deals give fossil fuel companies a respectability they don’t deserve.


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