a new column that spotlights the movers and shakers and makes the art world more environmentally friendly

Green is the New Black might seem like a rather funny title for a column describing how the art world is responding to our collective climate and environmental emergency. But I’m also aware that, after decades of world travel, private jet hopping and conspicuous consumption, the art world’s recent embrace of green, while undoubtedly positive, must also be viewed with a clear eye and an eyebrow raised at times.

Amid the current plethora of environmental-themed exhibits and initiatives, the aim of this column is to focus on what and who are actually making a tangible difference, rather than just making noise. These can be artists, organizations or individuals. If our sector is going to play its part in averting the climate and ecological crisis, then actions rather than gestures are needed. Motives will always be mixed (after all, this column is sponsored by a shipping company), but real results and how they are achieved is what I’ll focus on.

Culture Declares used grass coats and a white horse to beckon Tate’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2019. Thanks to Louisa Buck

Let’s see where we are so far. In the UK, public institutions have been at the forefront of thinking about the environment. As early as 2008, then Tate director Nicholas Serota delivered a paper to the Bizot Group of international gallery directors with environmentally friendly guidelines for managing the environmental conditions of museums. Encouraged by Culture Declares, an initiative co-founded by artists Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey, Tate subsequently declared a climate emergency in 2019 and has since nailed its environmental credentials by publishing a comprehensive 2021-3 environmental policy.† Now, Tate is well on track to reduce CO2 emissions in all its buildings by 50% by 2023 and achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

In 2012, Arts Council England (ACE) became the first cultural body in the world to include environmental reporting and actionable results in its long-term funding agreements with arts organisations. Now ACE is pushing for all of its portfolio organizations to submit their carbon data and have environmental action plans as a condition of funding. Outside of the UK, there are other proactive institutions, including the Guggenheim, which launched a Sustainability Leadership Team in 2020 to implement eco-friendly practices in all its operations. This year, Guggenheim Bilbao was the first museum in Spain to measure its carbon emissions and publish a comprehensive sustainability plan for all its programs and activities.

And now the commercial sector is finally starting to catch up. The Gallery Climate Coalition was launched in London in October 2020 by a voluntary group of gallery owners and art professionals – including myself – to develop what we saw as a highly anticipated response to the growing climate and environmental crisis posed by our riotous, polluting industry. Now the GCC is an internationally registered charity with over 800 members spanning all aspects of the art world, from big name commercial galleries to small artist-run spaces, public museums and galleries; and from auction houses to artists and private individuals. In addition to GCC London, volunteer teams are now active in Berlin, Italy and Los Angeles, with New York in the pipeline and offers to form teams in Spain, Brazil and Japan.

a new column that spotlights the movers and shakers and makes the art world more environmentally friendly

GCC Founding Committee, including your correspondent Louisa Buck. Thanks to the GCC

The core goal of the GCC is to provide the tools and resources to enable a greener, more sustainable art world and specifically to reduce the sector’s carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030 in line with the Paris Agreement. And to achieve zero waste. All GCC members must commit to this 50% CO2 reduction in their own operations, as well as addressing waste issues. To facilitate this, the GCC’s website provides an industry-specific carbon calculator and up-to-date advice on a range of issues such as shipping, travel, building management, packaging, recycling, offsetting and NFTs. The emphasis is always on measurable action, encouraging members to post their results. Many have already done so, from Thomas Dane in London to Jan Mot in Brussels and Hauser & Wirth in fourteen locations worldwide. The goal is for everyone to calculate and act on their carbon emissions and waste in the same way they currently monitor their finances.

There are no winners or losers in a climate emergency, it affects us all in the end. To this end, the GCC has joined forces with an international coalition of visual arts organizations under the umbrella title of PACT (Partners on Art and Climate Targets), all committed to supporting and accelerating the adoption of climate action, albeit through a number of different paths.

Other art market organizations have also recently stepped up to the plate. These include Christie’s, which last year announced a Global Sustainability Initiative and was the first auction house to pledge to be net-zero by 2030. The publication of annual sustainability reports indicates that Christie’s is willing to take a critical look themselves, and hopefully they will also play an active role in promoting a cleaner store of the notoriously energy-guzzling NFTs that are an increasingly prominent part of their business.

a new column that spotlights the movers and shakers and makes the art world more environmentally friendly

Cecily Brown’s There will be bluebirds (2019) was sold at Christie’s in a charity auction for ClientEarth. Courtesy of the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery. Photo: Genevieve Hanson.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a new collegiality within a notoriously competitive industry and hopefully this will continue once the art world is fully up and running again. This encouraging tendency to unite rather than divide has already manifested itself in a number of environmental initiatives. Last year, Christie’s joined forces with the GCC to launch the Artists for ClientEarth auction series, which has raised £5.5 million to date for the eco-friendly charity ClientEarth, featuring Cecily Brown, Antony Gormley, Xie Nanxing and Rashid Johnson and their respective galleries: Thomas Dane, White Cube and Hauser & Wirth donate works for the sale of tents on their various sites.

To reduce the notoriously high emissions of air freight, along with a corporate nod to skyrocketing air transportation costs, Christie’s has also partnered with fine art shipper Crozier to launch a new monthly sea route between London and New York, along with a bi-monthly sea service. between London and Hong Kong. Each shipment provides Christies 60% of container space and the rest for consolidated shipments from Crozier customers, and it remains to be seen whether this move will have a greater impact on shippers and insurers.

a new column that spotlights the movers and shakers and makes the art world more environmentally friendly

Shipping art by sea can reduce CO2 emissions by about 96% compared to air freight.

It’s worth noting that many of the current conversations about shipping by sea as opposed to air were sparked by the artist Gary Hume who, in 2019, when he had a show in New York, commissioned a report on the impact of shipping it. work from his studio in London by sea rather than air. This showed that the carbon footprint was 96% lower than if the work had been flown and that it was also considerably cheaper. Hume now states that his work is always shipped by sea. This is just one of the ways – as diverse as the art itself – that a significant number of artists are increasingly emerging as formidable powerhouses in tackling climate and environmental emergencies, and these efforts deserve greater attention.

Now that biennials, art fairs and international travel have returned, the need to balance pressing environmental concerns and navigating the practical realities of different art dealership and institutional business models – not to mention creating art itself – poses a challenge. for significant challenges in our industry. How the art world, its infrastructure and the artists themselves grapple with these challenges is what I’m going to explore here. Time is of the essence now, so let’s take a look at who is really announcing the changes.

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