On the 20th of January 2014, Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced that the car manufacturer Hyundai is to take over as the sponsor of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. The Korean firm has made an unprecedented 11-year commitment to funding the space, starting in 2015. Hyundai takes over from Unilever in sponsoring one of the most important annual events in contemporary art – using the gallery’s vast Turbine Hall as a canvas for installations in a series that began with an enormous Louise Bourgeois spider in 2000.

Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate’s director, called it a landmark partnership. “It marks a new chapter for Tate but is also a great springboard from which other things will grow,” he said. However, it is highly unusual for a company to sign up to an 11-year sponsorship.  According to BBC Arts Editor, Will Gompertz, the norm is a three-year deal, sometimes it can be five, however 11 is extraordinary and also very risky. It seems that most corporate sponsorships involving consumer brands with physical products to sell fail to live up to the sponsor’s expectations. Typically, the company doesn’t achieve the shift in perception it had hoped for, nor the consumer recognition of its involvement in the arts.

It does make you wonder why Hyundai would wish to enter into such a deal. Perhaps this is just as much, if not more, a case of cultural diplomacy than corporate sponsorship? It certainly seems hugely unlikely that Hyundai would take up such a risky deal without an agenda of some kind. If this were the case then should we be worried about a Korean monopoly within the Tate walls?

The company has already supported a major acquisition of video art by South Korea’s avant-garde Nam June Paik. Considered the father of video art, Paik coined the phrase “electronic superhighway” in 1974 and was the first artist to experiment with the platform of television, considering it as an open canvas on which many more artists would one day construct their works. Hyundai purchased nine of his works, which span his entire 40-year career, which have now already entered the Tate’s permanent collection, and will go on display later this year, arguably a fairly obvious promotion of Korean art.

Yet, it is not the first time that the Turbine hall has welcomed international artists. Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist, covered the floor of the hall in hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds in 2010, while Colombian-born sculptor Doris Salcedo created a crack in the floor along the hall’s length in 2007and the Tate is certainly all the better for these cultural exchanges.

What’s more, the Hyundai deal comes amid a public funding crunch for arts organisations. Business investment in the arts fell in the five years to 2011, according to data from the not for profit consultancy Arts & Business. This means that private support and sponsorship for the arts and museums is vital for their survival. So even if there are perhaps slightly questionable motives behind this risky move by Hyundai, it is one that artists and art fans alike, should welcome with open arms.

By Carinthia Pearson

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