Controversial Sponsorship Agreement Ends

Astrup Fearnley Museum has not renewed its sponsorship agreement with Lundin Norway. The museum will review its entire sponsorship profile when Solveig Øvstebø takes over as director in May.

From Astrup Fearnley Museum’s 25th anniversary, 2018. Photo: Astrup Fearnley Museum.

The list of sponsors at Astrup Fearnley Museum no longer includes the controversial oil company Lundin Norway.

“There is no drama in this,” said chairman of the board Bjørn Rønneberg to Kunstkritikk. “The museum’s sponsorship agreement with Lundin expired at the end of December 2019 and came to a natural end.”

The Norwegian branch of the Swedish-owned oil company Lundin Petroleum has been Astrup Fearnley Museum’s main sponsor since 2012. At the time the agreement was signed, Lundin Petroleum was under investigation in Sweden for being involved in genocide in what is now South Sudan, where the company operated under the name Lundin Oil between 1997 and 2003.

Shortly after the agreement was signed in the autumn of 2012, Astrup Fearnley Museum, which had just inaugurated its new building at Tjuvholmen in central Oslo, attracted strong criticism for its cooperation with Lundin. Kunstkritikk’s editor-in-chief at the time, Jonas Ekeberg, referred to the sponsorship agreement as “an effort to launder the image of a company that has exploited resources in the Third World since the 1970s.” Kim West, then Swedish editor of Kunstkritikk, cancelled a lecture he was scheduled to give at the museum, stating that by working with Lundin Petroleum, the museum adopted a position that was incompatible with his own critical and political stance.

Such criticism and protest did not prompt the museum to terminate the sponsorship agreement, however, and in the following years the Norwegian art field’s general attitude towards Lundin Norway’s sponsorship seemed largely one of resignation. Last autumn, Director Gunnar Kvaran told Kunstkritikk that the museum saw no reason to terminate the collaboration as its interaction only concerned the company’s Norwegian branch. “We have talked to the Norwegian authorities about the company’s operations here in Norway, and there were no grounds for criticising the conduct of the Norwegian branch of Lundin,” Kvaran said.

After ten years of investigation, no verdict has been reached on the Lundin case. In October 2018, the Swedish prosecuting authorities received the government’s permission to sue the company – specifically, the company’s management, Ian Lundin and Alex Schneiter – for complicity in gross violations of international law. Due to extensions of the investigation, no indictments have been made as yet.

According to Rønneberg, there is “no special reason” why Astrup Fearnley Museum’s sponsorship agreement with Lundin Norway was not renewed when it expired at the start of 2020. He stated that the museum will review its entire sponsorship profile when the new director, Solveig Øvstebø, takes over the chair in May. “Developing a new profile will be part of our programme for 2020. We have relatively few sponsors and would like to have more,” said Rønneberg.

Øvstebø is currently in the final stages of preparing her last exhibition as director at The Renaissance Society in Chicago. When asked by Kunstkritikk about her views on ethical issues related to sponsorships, Øvstebø responded that she will wait to speak on this issue until she has taken up her new position in Oslo.