The current sanctions against the Russian oligarchs are rekindling the debate between art, ethics and the “carbon world”. The controversy over these links already emerged more than a decade ago through the actions of Liberate Tate (among others) that led to BP’s eventual departure from the Tate. The institution was denounced for funding climate change denial, questionable from both an environmental and an ethical perspective. Across the Atlantic, the conscience of the public was awakened during the election of Donald Trump, supported by billionaires such as the Koch brothers, who were major funders of both global warming skepticism and art.

The forced closure of Ai Weiwei’s foundation account by Credit Suisse – for which the artist responded by showing them his middle finger – was concomitant with the publication of a report revealing a massive number of the bank’s “dirty clients” up until the end of the 2010s. For their part, the report led to environmental activists travelling to Zurich in 2021 to denounce the bank’s fossil fuel investments. The consequent announcement in 2022 by Crédit Suisse to reduce its carbon investments by 50% by 2030 has calmed down activism, but confidence is fragile. 

In France, newly elected officials from the Green party are getting involved. In Lyon, for example, the city’s new “Charter of patronage and sponsorship” in 2021 has inaugurated a host of new pro-environment regulations and led to the suspension of TotalEnergies as patron of the Museum of Fine Arts – part of the reason being the investigations of the company by NGOs regarding its role in the spread of climate skepticism.

Whilst the finance and energy sectors remain a major supporter of the cultural sector, it is essential to address the risks of art-greenwashing by doing more to incorporate clear business ethics and sustainable development!

Alice Audouin


April 2022

Translated by Stefano Vendramin

Find here all the articles from Impact Art News n°37 April / May 2022

Article also published in the Sustainable Art Market section of the new Art Market Day newsletter in Le Quotidien de l’Art (subscription needed).

The Sustainable Art Market section, entrusted to Alice Audouin by Art Market Day, provides monthly news and expertise on the art market with regard to environmental issues and sustainable development.

Credit: On October 6 2021, Greenpeace France demonstrated in front of the Louvre Museum to denounce its links with TotalEnergies, © Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP