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A Very Duchampian Protest Action at Tate Modern

A curious sign in a bathroom at Tate Modern was created to protest lay offs at one of the UK’s biggest museums.

Anonymous, “Inverted Fountain” (2020) (courtesy of PCS Tate United)

Two days into a strike that is challenging plans to lay off 313 w0rkers at the Tate museums in London and workers have found a creative way to express their fury against the institution’s management.

In the morning of Thursday, August 20, a curious installation popped up at Tate Modern’s Level 1 restrooms, where an ordinary urinal was anonymously labeled “Inverted Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp)” (2020).

A parodic museum label next to the new Duchampian exhibit reads: “This piece symbolises how Tate are pissing away 313 valuable staff by making them redundant from their shops, cafes and publishing despite having received £7 million [∼$9.2 million] in support from the government.”

A line at the bottom of the caption calls, “Support #Tate_United and help #SaveTateJobs.”

Tate’s planned staff reductions will eliminate almost half of its commercial workforce (courtesy of PCS Tate United)

The striking workers belong to PCS Tate United, a branch of the Public and Commercial Services Union representing workers in the Tate galleries (Tate Modern & Tate Britain). On August 4, the workers voted for a strike on four different days this week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday). Starting Monday, August 24, the workers will be on a continuous strike until their demands are met.

Tate’s planned staff reductions will eliminate almost half of its 640 commercial workforce.

“We don’t agree with Tate’s decision to make 313 workers redundant during a pandemic and recession,” PCS Tate United said in a statement to Hyperallergic. “These are some of the lowest-paid jobs across Tate, with workers from the retail, catering and publishing divisions, and we are some of the most diverse staff at Tate, with many of our colleagues BAME [Black, Asian, and minority ethnic], LGBTQIA+, disabled and/or immigrants.”

The workers demand suspending all layoffs “while any Tate employee is making over £100,000 [∼$132,000] per year.”

They added: “Tate should use just 10% of the £7 million government culture bailout they are receiving to save as many jobs as possible. If this is not enough money, Tate should join with PCS in lobbying the government for more support.”

The union’s demands were echoed in an open letter today, signed by the 10 recipients of this year’s Turner Prize (the winners are selected annually by Tate). The artists, each of whom received a £10,000 (∼$13,200) bursary instead of a single winner, wrote: “We are angered and disappointed that the same spirit of support is not being embodied by Tate Enterprises towards their staff.”

“The threat of their redundancies directly contradicts Tate’s commitment to ‘champion the richness of art for everyone,’ their recent response to the Black Lives Matter movement in which they expressed commitment ‘to dismantle the structures within [their] own organisation which perpetuate [racial] inequality,’ and the recognition of exceptional hardship which contributed to the Turner Bursaries we have received.”

In an email to Hyperallergic, Tate responded with a statement that said: “The decisions around the restructure have been made with great sadness and the Tate Enterprises Directors have tried to save as many jobs as possible. We aim to support those affected by the redundancies as much as we can.”

“Tate Gallery allocated £5 million from its reserves to support the Tate Enterprises business throughout lockdown, and this financial year,” the museum’s statement continued. “Money from any Government bailout will have to be used to offset the losses in income from other activities such as ticket sales.”

“As it stands, unfortunately, Tate has decided that they will use £0 to save jobs, despite receiving £7 million from the government that they were not expecting,” the union members told Hyperallergic. “We think this is unacceptable.”

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