Boycott of U.K. Arts Charity Over Ties to Israel Hits Venice

Artist Gabrielle Goliath, currently exhibiting in Venice, has drawn attention to the Strike Outset campaign.

A visitor watches an audio-video installation by artist Gabrielle Goliath in the central pavilion during the pre-opening of the Venice Biennale art show, on April 16, 2024 in Venice. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/ via Getty Images.

Gabrielle Goliath, a multidisciplinary artist who is currently exhibiting at the Venice Biennale, has distanced herself from the Outset Contemporary Art Fund, joining other artists in striking against the charity for its alleged links to pro-Israel individuals and organizations amid the war in Gaza.

Goliath, known for depicting issues of social concern, shared in an April 12 Instagram post that she has made a correction to the acknowledgement text of the Venice Biennale catalog and decided not to accept funding from the U.K. chapter of Outset. The artist, who is South African, specifically drew attention to a campaign called Strike Outset, which is calling on creatives to make a stand against the organization for its alleged ties to Israel. (Meanwhile, South Africa is currently levying charges of genocide against Israel for the violence against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.)

“In response to the Strike Outset campaign I have decided not to accept funding from the Outset Contemporary Art Fund,” Goliath wrote. “Whilst I acknowledge the important platform they represent and have the highest regard for many of the artists they have supported, I cannot associate my work with them at this time.”

The Strike Outset campaign is supported by groups including Artists and Culture Workers LDN, White Pube, Industria, and Art Workers for Palestine Scotland.

Last year, the latter group, which formed in 2021 in response to Israel’s attacks on Sheikh Jarrah, called out the founders of the London-based charity for what it alleged amounts to funding of a Palestinian “genocide” carried out by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Art Workers For Palestine Scotland published a Google document at the time with its list of allegations, which focus on alleged donations to programs for Israeli settlers in the West Bank, and ties to the infamous Israeli spy company, NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus spyware. The international community largely considers Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal under international law.

The group uncompromisingly titled the document: “The art world’s unthinking complicity in the genocide of Palestinians. Or, why you should think hard before working with Outset Contemporary Art Fund.”

The latest allegations by the broader Strike Outset campaign now add that Outset, which also operates a chapter in Israel, runs an invite-only residency program out of the Tel Aviv home of cofounder Candida Gertler, a former trustee of the British Friends of the Art Museums of Israel that has raised funds in the past for arts programs for Israeli soldiers.

A woman standing beside an abstract painting.

Candida Gertler in London, 2021. Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Outset Contemporary Art Fund.

Outset was founded by Gertler and Yana Peel in 2003 as a charity supporting art projects in the U.K., and has led the creation of philanthropic models such as the Outset Frieze Tate Fund. The organization was co-directed by the two trustees until Peel resigned in 2012, former associate director Jack Charlesworth said in an email to Artnet News sent in October 2023. Charlesworth has since left the organization, according to a bounce-back reply to an email seeking an updated comment for this story.

In an email, a spokesperson for Outset U.K. clarified that the organization is currently governed by a board of seven trustees, each with an equal vote and responsibility in ensuring the executive team acts in accordance with its Articles of Association and guidelines set out by the U.K.’s Charity Commission. They added that trustees’ financial contributions—to the U.K. operation and to its Outset Partners Awards program—do not exceed three percent of the overall turnover each year, and that “no individual trustee or director’s personal views have any impact on our charitable decisions.” They provided a link to the fund’s most recent audited accounts.

The organization has six active international chapters, including in Israel, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Greece, which it said are “governed independently.” Outset U.K. is run by a team of five, which works closely with its board of trustees, the spokesperson said, adding that “no chapter controls or influences the actions or decisions of another chapter.”

While Peel is no longer affiliated with the nonprofit, Gertler continues to serve as a trustee and co-director of the organization. The Art Workers’s document does not accuse Outset of directly funding activities related to Israel or the conflict in and around Palestine.

Outset previously denied that any of its funding goes to controversial causes in Israel. “The charity’s operation is now overseen by a board of seven trustees, and funding is pooled together each year from many private individuals, partnering foundations, and corporate sponsors. Outset awards grants to museums and galleries, as directed by our patrons in a consensus-driven journey each year that is led by an independent research fellow,” Charlesworth had said. “Outset does not provide any grant funding for humanitarian aid.”

Nevertheless, the Art Workers for Palestine Scotland, and now Strike Outset, have called out the co-founders’ ties to Israeli organizations. After leaving Outset, Peel went on to serve as CEO of the Serpentine Galleries but resigned from that post in 2019 and is now the head of arts and culture at Chanel. Peel’s resignation from Serpentine Galleries came after media reports linked her and her husband, Stephen Mark Peel, to NSO Group. She issued a statement to the press at the time calling her decision the result of “a concerted lobbying campaign” from her critics.

While covering Peel’s Serpentine resignation, the Guardian reported that, through her husband, Peel has had ties to Novalpina Capital, a private equity firm with a controlling stake of NSO Group. However, the newspaper appended an editor’s note online the following year saying that she personally “was not and is not involved in the management, operations or control of NSO.” The paper added she “has a single-digit percentage, indirect, and passive interest” in Novalpina, which is more accurately a chain of international companies under the same name that can be difficult to track.

“My husband has no ties to the Israeli government via Zak Gertler or otherwise and never has had,” Peel said by email. “Any assertion that Stephen is connected to the Israeli government or to Zak Gertler are totally wrong and untrue.” Zak Gertler is the husband of fellow Outset cofounder, Candida Gertler. It was not immediately clear why Peel only mentioned Zak Gertler, and not his wife, by name in her reply.

In a follow-up email, Peel, like Charlesworth, also noted she has not been affiliated with the arts foundation for more than a decade. “Stephen has not been involved with NSO for over two years and Novalpina is no longer operating and is undergoing a voluntary solvent liquidation,” Peel clarified.

The campaign also accuses Zak Gertler of donating money to Netanyahu, who pro-Palestinian activists view as primarily responsible for the perpetration of what they call “genocide” against people in Palestine. It points to Mr. Gertler, a British real estate tycoon, as having been listed as a donor to Netanyahu’s 2007 campaign, more than a decade before the Israeli leader was hit with corruption charges. This was first reported by Israeli publication Ynet in 2010 and further by the Jerusalem Post in 2019, which reported that Netanyahu did receive donations from Gertler, who also financed a birthday party for the controversial Israeli leader.

Candida Gertler has made no posts to an Instagram account belonging to her since December 2021. Neither of the Gertlers have responded to repeated requests for comment after the group of artists in Scotland first launched their platform.

On its website, Strike Outset claimed that based on its allegations, the organization is “not a fit partner for artists, art workers, or art institutions.”

The movement is calling on artists to refuse to work or have their work purchased by Outset, to decline its invitations and residencies, and to end existing and future partnerships with the fund. It further calls on arts organizations to refuse funding and partnerships with Outset. While part of its demand is the closure of Outset Israel, the campaign stated its strike applied to all of the fund’s chapters until “Outset’s ties with Israeli apartheid are cut.”

So far, the campaign has been co-signed by more than 500 creatives including artists, curators, art workers, writers, and cultural organizations. Among the names are artists Cécile B. Evans, Hannah Black, Larry Achiampong, P Staff, and Gray Wielebinski.

In a response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Outset U.K. stated: “Outset U.K. is a registered charity that supports artists of all affiliations; and we respect diversity of opinion, taking no political position ourselves on behalf of the organization. This is fundamental to Charity Commission rules. We are deeply saddened by the war in Gaza, by the pain and suffering of all those affected, and wish for nothing more than an end to the conflict with a durable resolution so both Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace.”

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics