Tate suspends contact with donor over sexual harassment claims

Tate and National Galleries Scotland have suspended contact with one of their biggest donors after he was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.

The 78-year-old art dealer Anthony d’Offay created the Artist Rooms programme when, in 2008, he sold almost his entire art collection to the galleries for the price he had paid originally rather than what it was worth. At the time, the then Tate director Nicholas Serota called it “one of the most generous gifts that has ever been made to museums in this country”.

On Sunday the Observer revealed that D’Offay was facing allegations of harassment and inappropriate behaviour dating from 1997 to 2004. He denies the claims.

In a joint statement Tate and National Galleries Scotland said they had been made aware of the allegations.

“In 2008 Mr D’Offay was the donor of the Artist Rooms collection which is now owned and jointly managed by Tate and NGS. Mr d’Offay stepped down from any connection with Artist Rooms in December 2017.

“In light of these allegations, Tate and NGS have decided that it is appropriate to suspend any further contact with Mr D’Offay until these matters have been clarified.

“The work of Tate and NGS is underpinned by values of fairness, equality and respect and the right to work free of sexual harassment. We expect these values to be demonstrated in the behaviour of everyone who is involved in our organisations.”

The allegations against D’Offay have been made by women with successful careers in the art world who said they hoped it would encourage others to come forward.

One of the women, a former employee at his London gallery, claimed D’Offay had become increasingly and inappropriately touchy. It culminated with an alleged incident when he approached her while she was on the phone.

“He grabbed me,” the woman told the Observer. “Pulled me really tight and started kissing my neck. I pushed him away. Because I was on the phone I could not scream. Pushing him away was the only thing I could do.”

The Metropolitan police are also investigating a complaint from a young woman that D’Offay sent her malicious messages.

In a statement D’Offay said he was “appalled” by the allegations and categorically denied the claims.

Artist Rooms has been an enormous success. It was originally 50 rooms of contemporary art by 25 artists who included Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Diane Arbus and Gilbert & George. D’Offay sold them to the nation for the price he paid, so £28m rather than a possible £125m.

The initial 725 works by 25 artists have grown to more than 1,600 works by 40 artists, often as a result of gifts from artists themselves. Phyllida Barlow was named as the 40th Artist Rooms artist in 2016.

The works have been seen in nearly 100 museums nationwide, with Robert Mapplethorpe photographs exhibited in Dunoon and Gerhard Richter works in Middlesbrough.

An Artist Rooms hub is part of Tate Modern’s new extension where visitors can currently see works by Bruce Nauman.

D’Offay said in his statement that he had decided in December “it was time to retire as ex-officio curator” of Artist Rooms.