Tracey Emin, the BBC, and £60,000 of public money

Internal emails by BBC employees have revealed that it 'invented' a reason to explain to critics why the corporation spent £60,000 of licence fee money on a sculpture by Tracey Emin.

The purchase of the work was made at a time when the director-general, Mark Thompson, was announcing a massive cost-cutting programme. The work was commissioned by the BBC to celebrate Liverpool becoming European City of Culture and was unveiled in February of this year. Entitled 'Roman Standard' and depicting a bird perched on a branch, it stands outside Liverpool Anglican Cathedral.

The BBC decided it would reveal the price paid to Emin, because it believed that it would have to do so anyway under the Freedom of Information Act. Its decision has now set a precedent that threatens to uncover one of the art world's most closely guarded secrets: how much a public gallery pays for a modern work of art.

In a test case next month, the independent Information Tribunal will rule on whether the public has a right to know how much government and national galleries such as the Tate or the National Portrait Gallery pay for contemporary works of art.

The BBC, Emin and a bill for £60,000 (The Observer, 20 November 2005)