UK govt defends buying expensive paintings as ‘promotion of culture’ after dismayed Labour MPs blast £90,000 price tag

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The UK government has defended buying pricey artwork by insisting it does so to promote British culture, after Labour MPs accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being “selfish” amid upcoming cuts to benefits.

“The Government Art Collection helps to promote the creativity of British art and culture by showcasing its works in the UK and across the globe,” a government spokesperson said in a statement to the UK media.

The spokesperson said all purchases were approved by an independent expert panel, while “the majority of funding for acquisitions comes from philanthropic sources – not taxpayers’ money”.

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The statement came after the Daily Mirror cited official documents stating that nearly £90,000 ($125,000) was spent via the Government Art Collection for two pieces of artwork for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s residence at 10 Downing Street. The core functioning of the collection is funded by the government, with specific projects jointly supported by private donations and partnership, according to its website.

A total of £70,200 ($97,500) was spent on an untitled abstract painting by Belfast-born artist Cathy Wilkes. Another £18,755 ($26,100) was paid for a set of four black-and-white vegetation photographs by Derry-born photographer Willie Doherty called ‘Ashen, Restless’.

The photographs were acquired in March from Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery. The painting was purchased the same month from the Glasgow-based Modern Institute.

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The purchase of expensive artwork was revealed as the government is set to slash the temporary pandemic-related increase in the Universal Credit benefit by £20 a week from October 6 – a cut that will affect low-income workers.

“Johnson finds more lavish treats for himself, just as he cuts Universal Credit, freezes frontline police pay, and cuts help to disadvantaged schoolchildren”, Labour Party MP Neil Coyle tweeted, adding that the PM was “totally out of touch”.

Johnson finds more lavish treats for himself, just as he cuts Universal Credit, freezes frontline police pay, and cuts help to disadvantaged schoolchildren.Totally out of touch.

— Neil Coyle (@coyleneil) August 9, 2021

Another Labour lawmaker, Emma Lewell-Buck, told the Mirror that Johnson focuses on himself when the country is still reeling from the pandemic and lockdowns. “The selfishness of this Prime Minister is galling,” she said.

The PMs spending priorities. It’s always about himself 💷🖼Nearly £100,000 spent on Downing St paintings as Boris Johnson planned to slash benefits – Mirror Online

— Emma Lewell-Buck MP (@EmmaLewellBuck) August 9, 2021

Former culture secretary, Tory peer Ed Vaizey said called the Government Art Collection “a unique cultural asset of our country,” which has supported British artists for decades. He added that Johnson had no role in the acquisition.

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