Anthony d'Offay golliwog selfie
Left to right: Anthony d'Offay in the photo sent to Jade Montserrat and d'Offay at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. Photo: courtesy of Jade Montserrat and David Cheskin - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Life

The Tate 'Banned' a Black Artist After She Called Out an Art Dealer's Sexual Abuse

Jade Montserrat claims she was abused for years by Anthony d'Offay, its powerful then-patron – and the gallery did nothing when she came forward.
March 18, 2021, 9:00am

On the 1st of June 2020, as the Black Lives Matter movement took off worldwide, the Tate galleries tweeted a photo of No Woman, No Cry, Chris Ofili's famous tribute to murdered Black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

'We are grieving with you – for Stephen, for George Floyd, and all the people who suffer at the hands of prejudice and violence,' the Tate's tweets said, together with the Black Lives Matter hashtag.

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That was at the start of last summer. By the time summer ended, the Tate had allegedly banned a young Black female artist after she spoke out about the racist, emotional and sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of one of the most powerful figures in the British art world – and a key Tate donor.

Jade Montserrat met Anthony d'Offay in September 2012 at a gallery in Hull. She was a 31-year-old Black artist. He was an influential 72-year-old art dealer giving a talk alongside the touring Artist Rooms, a collection he built and then sold at a discount to the Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland in 2008. This deal elevated his reputation from key player in the global art scene to major art philanthropist.

But with status comes power, and power seems to do strange things to people. An extensive statement written by Montserrat and later sent to the Tate details her account of what happened next.

After that first meeting, according to Montserrat, d'Offay “persistently” tried to get her to spend time with him. “His overtures had sexual overtones and I found them unpleasant and intimidating,” she said in her statement, seen by VICE.

These were not the first allegations against d’Offay. In early 2018, the Observer revealed claims that he had sexually harassed three women between 1997 and 2004. One of them spoke of the consequences of refusing his advances. "I knew that he would try to punish me professionally and indeed he did for several years afterwards," she told the Observer. D’Offay said of the claims: “I am appalled these allegations are being levelled against me and I categorically deny the claims being made.”

Montserrat felt that she was left trying to walk a tightrope between d'Offay's professional power and his personal conduct. She wrote in her statement that he exploited his seniority in the art world to try and control her. “The boundary between the professional and the personal was completely compromised and Mr d'Offay would frequently make reference to the opportunities he could give me access to in the context of his sexual demands. At the same time, he encouraged me to think of him as a father figure.”

Her statement details a litany of alleged sexual and racial harassment during a five-year period during which she “attempted to walk a line between being supported as an artist and exploited as a Black woman”. VICE repeatedly reached out to d’Offay for comment on the allegations but received no response.

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Montserrat alleges that he made sexual advances on her, rang her while he was in the bath, controlled what she wore and how she did her hair, and messaged her to tell her how “cute” she would look in particular clothing. He got angry at her when she got his fantasies wrong when narrating them back to him.

“He made it very difficult for me to manage any relationships or friendships or for me to pursue career opportunities elsewhere,” Montserrat wrote in her statement.

In 2015, with Montserrat in debt and financial difficulties, he started paying her a stipend of £400 for ten watercolour paintings each month. This, she alleges, became another way to control her.

According to Montsterrat, he told her the stipend would stop if she had boyfriends, or if she commented on views she found upsetting – a particular issue given d'Offay's alleged fondness for flaunting racialised imagery at her. She claims that he showed her his collection of slave-related pictures and paraphernalia at his upmarket London home and watched her shocked reactions to his images of lynchings, animal mutilations, pogroms in Russia, naked Black men, and even Hitler's speeches.

The statement describes an occasion in 2017 where an argument broke out between the two at his home due to his insistence that they watch the film Selma, which portrays violence against Black people, together. She told him his behaviour was evidence of a racist attitude, to which he reacted “very aggressively” and referred to his slave-owning ancestors. At this point, Montserrat says, she started crying. She claims D'Offay threatened to hit her if she didn't stop.

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Montserrat attempted suicide in 2017, taking an overdose of pills that saw her rushed to A&E. Afterwards, d'Offay peppered her with “highly emotional” and angry phone calls.

“I have suffered significant psychological and psychiatric damage as a consequence of the behaviour of Mr d'Offay,” said Montserrat's statement, which was sent to the Tate in January 2020.

Anthony d'Offay golliwog selfie

The photo that was sent to Jade Montserrat. Photo: courtesy of Jade Montserrat

Two things happened in December 2017. Montserrat was diagnosed with depression by d’Offay’s private doctor. And she took a screenshot of a photo that d'Offay had texted her the previous year, and posted it on Twitter.

In the photo, d'Offay's reflection can be seen in a mirror as he takes a selfie. He bears a stern expression, and wears horn-rimmed glasses and what appears to be a white bathrobe. His smartphone is visible as he holds it up to the mirror. Between his phone and his chin is the incongruously smiling face of a fluffy-haired, googly-eyed golliwog. D’Offay did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this.

She tweeted the photo with a statement about d'Offay's abuse. She was immediately deluged with Twitter follows from Tate staff. Figures from the art world publicly supported her.

Tate director Maria Balshaw contacted her directly. When Montserrat told her that Artist Rooms had a heavy white curatorial bias and needed greater artistic diversity, she says that Balshaw replied that d'Offay was interested in Black artist John Akomfrah's work – an extraordinary response to someone who had just gone public as a victim of d'Offay's abuse. Balshaw did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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The Tate's dialogue with her soon petered out. Montserrat went to the police, who embarked on an investigation for malicious communications but concluded that the messages alone were insufficient evidence to pursue the case.

Her last contact with d'Offay was in spring 2018, after the Tate had publicly announced it was cutting ties with him following separate sexual harassment allegations – and less than a year before it quietly restored them, telling both the Times and the Art Newspaper it had “resumed contact” with him.

Tate Modern

The Tate Modern. Photo: Mark Henderson / Alamy Stock Photo

"You can't work with Jade Montserrat."

It was the morning of the 29th of July, 2020. Amy Sharrocks had just got a call from Cara Courage, the head of Tate Exchange, where Sharrocks had been commissioned to produce a year-long programme of work called A Rumour of Waves. Sharrocks had brought Montserrat on board, first as an artist and then as a co-curator. The Tate had first been told of her involvement in January and repeatedly since, and had never objected.

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But the previous day Sharrocks had emailed them details of her programme, including Montserrat in conversation with an academic – and now the Tate had dropped a bombshell on her.   

Having suddenly been told by Courage that she wouldn't be allowed to work with Montserrat, Sharrocks asked to speak to Anna Cutler, a director at the Tate. What emerged was just how terrified the Tate was of d'Offay – and of his lawyers.

The question of the Tate's relationship with d'Offay had re-emerged the previous month when, upon seeing the Tate tweeting support for Black Lives Matter, Montserrat had called them out.

“You’ve a platform, a voice and have been silent about complicity around Anthony d’Offay,” she tweeted. “There has been no accountability – my own experience asking @tate continually met with silence, still after two agonising years. I can’t fathom the hypocrisy.”

Her tweet included d'Offay's golliwog selfie. "I saw red and I couldn't hold that in," Montserrat tells VICE.

Sharrocks remembers the Zoom call with Cutler. "She begins with a whole conversation about Anthony, about how there is nothing further that they can do. She said she has no doubt about Jade's experience and that people aren't doing nothing, but people are legally forced to be silent on this because they would be sued.

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"She said that when [the Tate] announced they were going to suspend any contact [with d'Offay], there were immediate actions taken by his lawyers that meant that they couldn't really operate as an institution." D’offay did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this.

According to Sharrocks, Cutler revealed that Tate staff had been deluged by legal threats and demands from d'Offay's lawyers.

"She said that if you have the best lawyers in the world, and they're firing things at you that mean you have to respond by the end of the day, that you can't then do your job," says Sharrocks.

"She said she had no doubt about Jade's experience. Everybody said that – but that they couldn't do any more legally."

The Tate’s ethics committee had previously decided that nothing more could be done about Montserrat’s allegations against d’Offay. The committee, which contains two QCs (Jules Sher and Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury), appeared to have taken a legalistic rather than an ethical view, suggesting that further action against d'Offay would assume the accusations against him were true, which they didn't feel they had enough evidence for – despite the multiple allegations against him.

The Tate denied its ethics committee had taken a legalistic approach, insisting it was ”convened specifically to discuss ethical considerations, not to offer legal advice”. When VICE approached Sher on the subject, the QC referred VICE to the Tate; Lord Neuberger did not respond to a request for comment. VICE makes no accusation of racism against them or other members of the ethics committee.

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But in any case, Montserrat had never had any intention of mentioning d'Offay in the planned artistic programme, nor had she made her participation conditional on the Tate cutting all ties with d'Offay.

Attempts to reach an agreement allowing Montserrat to participate kept running aground because the Tate kept moving the goalposts. In discussions with Sharrocks, the Tate first claimed they would be sued by d’Offay, then that Montserrat was in dispute with the Tate. Then they claimed an article in the Guardian, which connected the Tate, d'Offay and the golliwog selfie, created a "completely different legal situation". Balshaw said that if she allowed the event featuring Montserrat to take place, she would likely be sacked by the board of trustees.

Finally,  the Tate accused Montserrat of engaging in a hostile campaign against 16 members of staff – one that involved posting comments on their colleagues’ accounts. No evidence was produced to support the claim. Montserrat firmly denies it. 

"It's that [James] Baldwin quote," she says. "You're a victim until you're able to articulate your victimhood - and then you're a threat."

The Tate told VICE that it was “untrue” that it made such accusations about Montserrat, adding that trustees “were not involved in any of these discussions and made no such statement. The Guardian article did not lead to any legal difficulties and it is entirely false to claim that it did”.

"I cannot believe that they have done this, that they have brought the whole institutional weight against her," adds Sharrocks. "They were aiming squarely at her. They were prepared to cancel two years’ work in order not to host her or speak to her. It was appalling."

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With that, progress towards a compromise collapsed. On the 4th of September, Sharrocks and her co-curators wrote to the Tate asking for mediation. That same day, the Tate quietly announced it had agreed with d’Offay to end their relationship, having insisted all summer that it couldn’t.

Courage and Cutler rejected the request for mediation three days later, referring to a “breakdown of trust” and confirming that A Rumour of Waves, which had been in the works since 2019, was off. The Tate told VICE that its discussions with Sharrocks were “entirely unrelated” to the joint statement that announced the end of its links to d’Offay.

It also denied that A Rumour of Waves was cancelled in light of Montserrat’s involvement, telling VICE: “Amy Sharrocks was invited to be last year’s lead artist for one of our ongoing public engagement projects. She proposed the involvement of several other artists and subsequently asked that they also be made lead artists on the project, which was not consistent with the terms of her original contract.”

It added: “Tate considers its actions in this matter to be entirely appropriate and ethical. In December 2017, Tate suspended contact with Anthony d’Offay pending further clarity on allegations relating to a matter beyond Tate. It has not had a working relationship with him since. D’Offay discontinued his involvement with Artist Rooms, its collection and its programme, as well as stepping down from the board of the Artist Rooms Foundation, and Tate has further confirmed the return of any works still on loan from d’Offay and the removal of public signage.”

Tate Modern Artist Rooms

The Artist Rooms in the Tate Modern. Photo: Dinendra Haria/Alamy Live News

Montserrat filed a subject access request (SAR) with the Tate towards the end of 2020, forcing it to disclose any emails or minutes it held that named her in relation to d’Offay or A Rumour of Waves.

The material the Tate sent back in response was striking.

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It revealed that at a meeting in December 2017, members of the Tate’s ethics committee said that while d’Offay’s golliwog selfie “could offend”, the picture “related to a private matter between two individuals”, and that as it had been sent privately, “the context in which it was taken and sent remains ambiguous”. The committee described the relationship between d’Offay and Montserrat as “apparently consensual”, noted there was “no evidence or implication of criminality”, and concluded that “no action or public statement would be appropriate”.

The SAR disclosures suggest the Tate was trying to ride two horses at once: on the one hand accusing Montserrat of harassment and hostile behaviour, while at the same time claiming A Rumour of Waves was cancelled because Sharrocks wanted to have a group of “lead artists” – and not because of Montserrat speaking publicly about the Tate and d’Offay.

For example, on the 17th of September 2020, the Tate said in response to a press enquiry that was not from VICE: “We have tried hard to find a way to make [Sharrocks’] project work in line with our original agreement with her, but have regrettably been unable to do so”. The words “our original agreement” refer to the Tate’s claim that its contract with Sharrocks only allowed for one lead artist – her. The same response denied that Sharrocks had been told she couldn’t work with Montserrat.

But nine days earlier an unidentified member of staff had written in an email: “My understanding is that we have let the external curator [Sharrocks] know that we are no longer able to work with Jade (artist) and the curator has decided to discontinue the project as a result.”

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And an internal departmental briefing on the 16th of September stated: “While this is obviously an incredibly difficult situation, the reason Jade Monsterrat [sic] is not welcomed to be a part of the Tate Exchange programme at Tate is because she has continually harassed several Tate staff directly for the last few months and this goes against our Dignity and Respect policy.”

Continual direct harassment of Tate staff is a serious allegation. But Montserrat’s SAR also asked for disclosure of “the dossier that has been recently compiled against me detailing 'hostile' message I allegedly sent to Tate employees”.

The Tate’s response stated: “The document we understand to be that mentioned… is included in the attachment although please note that at no point was this a formally compiled dossier, rather a collation of social media activity.”

The dossier, titled “Anthony d’Offay social sentiment summary July – September 2020”, consists of links to tweets, Instagram posts and screengrabs of Instagram stories concerning Montserrat, the Tate and d’Offay. Many of them are not even from Montserrat herself. Of those posted by Montserrat, two tweets name Balshaw, one critically, but neither tagging her. The only Tate staff member who was tagged in one of her collated tweets is Lionel Barber, the then-chair of the Tate’s board of trustees.

VICE asked the Tate if it had any evidence that Montserrat had directly harassed and sent hostile messages to individual Tate staff members. The Tate refused to answer.

“Did anyone in the art world not work for Anthony d’Offay?” asked Artspace magazine in 2014, listing a string of artists linked to him, including Damien Hirst and Bill Viola. He lives in the Regent's Park neighbourhood of Chester Terrace, where homes are currently on sale at between £6m and £14.5m.

The Tate lies at the crossover between this world of super-rich art investors, an upper middle-class arts establishment, and artists often mired in economic precarity. At the time, the trustees were chaired by former Financial Times editor Barber, who did not respond to a request for comment. BBC chief Tim Davie sits on both the trustee board and the ethics committee. Balshaw’s wedding dress was a one-off design by Vivienne Westwood. Confronted by a multi-millionaire art mogul and his battalion of lawyers, the Tate's leadership kicked down.

None of this occurred in a vacuum. Critics have long accused the Tate of neglecting Black artists and curators and paying lip service to calls for diversity. The mural on the walls of one of the Tate's restaurants contains racist images. In 2018, an artist-in-residence quit, accusing the gallery of failing survivors of sexual assault.

An open letter by artist collective Industria – calling for the Tate to publicly apologise to Montserrat, reform its ethics committee, and absorb d'Offay's Artist Rooms collection into the rest of the Tate – currently has more than a thousand signatures.

"I want to be able to concentrate on my work," says Montserrat. "And that's impossible as long as Tate especially and Anthony with his lawyers are a threat to the working conditions of me and people like me.

"What I'm seeing a lot of thankfully is a greater diversity within our institutions, but I hope that there comes a day when people like myself are able to enter without the complaint, without the requirement to speak on behalf of everyone else like us."

@cjayanetti