Tate cuts ties with billionaires sanctioned after Ukraine invasion

The Tate has severed ties with Viktor Vekselberg, founder of a Russian energy conglomerate, and Petr Aven, a Russian banker and art collector, after the businessmen were sanctioned by the US and EU respectively .

The London-based gallery group has retired Vekselberg as an honorary member of the Tate Foundation, a fundraising charity for acquisitions, exhibitions, education and capital projects.

“Mr. Vekselberg donated to the Tate seven years ago and no longer holds his honorary membership,” the Tate said. He declined to give further details about the gift.

Britain’s cultural institutions have struggled to distance themselves from wealthy donors and supporters linked to the Putin government in a wave of international sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The billionaire businessman was among those targeted by US sanctions on Friday, having already been hit by US sanctions in 2018. Valuing his fortune at more than $6 billion, the US government said on Friday that Vekselberg had “maintained close ties” with Vladimir Putin and identified as “well blocked” his private jet and yacht, each valued at $90 million.

In response to the latest sanctions, Vekselberg said, “This relisting is not only unfounded, but appears to be based on baseless demonstrative assumptions.”

In a letter sent by Vekselberg to the Tate on Thursday, he said he was ready to resign “if the Foundation thinks this act is necessary”, adding that he had been “really happy [his] donations have contributed to the development of cultural ties. He said: “I will continue to do my utmost to hasten the advent of peace”.

The Tate also severed its association with Aven, an art enthusiast who was a member of two of its donor programs. Aven has resigned from LetterOne, the investment firm he co-founded with fellow businessman Mikhail Fridman, after the EU imposed sanctions on the pair earlier this month. Aven and Fridman dismissed the charges in the EU sanctions as “false and baseless”.

Aven was a member of the Tate donor programs known as the International Council and European Circle of Collections. “Mr. Aven’s support of Tate is now over,” the gallery group said. He has already resigned as a trustee of the Royal Academy Trust and the London gallery has returned his donation to his current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast.

Aven declined to comment.

Tate said no UK sanctions were being applied to any of his current supporters, individuals or companies. “Any historical relationships with former donors associated with the Russian government are now over.”

He said he was in contact with the Department for Digital, Culture and Media and was “actively reviewing” all relationships, to align with the government’s position.

“We are ready to act if sanctions are extended to anyone in our network of supporters, and our administrators and directors are determined to do all they can to support the people of Ukraine and join in the international condemnation of the invasion. Russian.”

Among the Tate’s most significant donors is Sir Leonard Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born billionaire with American and British citizenship, who was a college friend and former business partner of Vekselberg in Russia in the 1990s. £50m donation for new Tate Modern extension, this has been renamed Blavatnik building in 2017.

Blavatnik is not on any sanctions list and has never been a Russian citizen.

Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Moscow

James C. Tibbs