by Mel Evans. Pluto Press, dist. by University of Chicago Press, May 2015. 201 p. ill. ISBN 9780745335889 (pbk.), $22.00.
Reviewed November 2015
Vada Komistra, Library Technician– Acquisitions/Cataloging, National Gallery of Art Library, email@example.com
Artwash, by Mel Evans, is a poignant and heartfelt assessment of art and corporate sponsorship as a contemporary global issue. The term "Artwash" sums up Evans' view of the consistently compromising state of artists and art museums accepting funds from oil companies. Evans, an artist and activist as well as an author, drives her content with equal parts research and first-hand experience. The book is written with an urgency revealing not only Evans' personal convictions, but also with the sincere hope of propelling readers to act.
Artwash takes readers on a journey through the history of corporate sponsorship in the arts in the United Kingdom and the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The majority of Evans' focus is directed at BP (British Petroleum), and the company's increasingly controversial involvement with the Tate Gallery. Evans introduces her activist group, Liberate Tate, and gives readers detailed accounts of the group's activism through performance at each of the Tate galleries. The April 20, 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, acts as Evans' catalyst. From there, readers travel back in time to discover the origins and evolution of corporate sponsorship. Tobacco companies lead the way, until medical evidence uncovering the deadly truth about tobacco products flows heavily through the media, causing a shift in cultural perspectives. Marlboro is then replaced by Shell, and Imperial Tobacco is replaced by BP. Evans does her best to inform readers that tobacco and oil companies are the same villain, suppressing and sacrificing art in the interest of self-promotion and global domination.
Straying from her subject only briefly, Evans becomes increasingly thorough in the book's final chapters discussing corporate sponsorship from several vantage points. Curators sound off about politically charged exhibitions, and artists express concern over losing commissions as a result of not complying with BP's requests. Evans notes the far-reaching effects of corporations in museums by chronicling the experiences of museum patrons in BP sponsored galleries.
The level of detail and precision with which Evans picks apart this multi-faceted issue makes the text surprisingly accessible. Evans writes with knowledge and clarity, deeming the book a valuable resource for students, art enthusiasts, and specialists. The monograph is of trade paper quality and size. The text includes an introduction, a lengthy notes section, and an index. Illustrations in the form of black and white, albeit slightly grainy photographs are purposefully presented throughout the text. Lists of tables, acronyms, and a cast of characters are also included.