Fashion Bytes — Museums and Corporate Sponsorships

Olive Tree from Larissa Sansour's 'Nation Estate'

At the end of this month, an expert jury should have convened to judge the entries for the Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011. Instead, as reported in the Guardian two months ago, the prize has been cancelled due its main sponsor, Lacoste, withdrawing funding over the inclusion of Larissa Sansour‘s nomination as a finalist.

Lacoste’s position is that Sansour’s entry, a multi-media piece, ‘titled Nation Estate which the artist says imagines a “Palestinian state rising from the ashes of the peace process”‘ was not in keeping with 2011’s theme of ‘La Joie de Vivre’, and that their actions are being misinterpreted as political when they are not. However, according to both a press release from Musée d’Elysée, and the Guardian’s email interview with Sansour, the interpretation of ‘La Joie de Vivre’ was at the complete discretion of the artists who entered.

The interesting point for me was a quote from Sansour stating that she was happy the museum had sided with her, the artist, rather than its corporate sponsor. In economically strapped times when museums are suffering funding cuts, it struck me as an extremely bold move for a museum to so openly side against a corporate sponsor. The subject of sponsorship has been discussed by Tove in the past, and mentioned in a previous Fashion Byte, but this seems to be a unique break from those discussions, with the museum defying the corporation.

What are your thoughts on the situation? Are museums gaining more power that they can risk the loss of sponsorship, or is this a unique example of the museum defending artistic freedom? Do you think such corporate sponsorships of prizes and exhibits help or hurt museums? Or does it depend on the balance of power within the relationship? Is Lacoste wrong in telling the museum who it can or cannot include in its own competition, or do they have a legitimate voice in that it is their money being used? What does Lacoste have to gain — or any corporate sponsor have to gain — from supporting artistic competitions and museum exhibits? And who really holds the most power in these exchanges?

Please share your thoughts.

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