Institutions and artists in Germany react to Sackler family allegations

Updated: Mar 30, 2020

By Alex Stuart

Eight members of the Sackler family are being sued for their contribution to the US opioid crisis with their pharmaceutical company’s highly addictive drug OxyContin. German artist Hito Steyerl and the Jewish Museum in Berlin are the latest to pledge their refusal of any future donations and sponsorship from the family-members, of which many are long-term patrons of the arts.

Steyerl, who won the Käthe Kollwitz prize for her achievements in multimedia art last year, opened her solo show at the Serpentine Sackler gallery in London on 10th April. The Serpentine building’s construction had been sponsored by the Sacklers, prompting her to ‘address the elephant in the room’ during her opening speech. She called for institutions and artists to come together to ‘find legal ways to address the problem and then commonly find ways to regulate it by using existing institutional bodies’ and compared the dilemma to being married to a serial-killer, from whom ‘it shouldn’t be a problem to get a divorce’.

In response, the Serpentine announced they would no longer accept donations from the Sackler family. Joining it is Berlin’s Jewish Museum, who simultaneously announced it would not be able to rename the ‘Sackler staircase’, an internal structure made possible by a donation in 2002. The museum spokeswoman explains: “In 2002 we were not aware that OxyContin is subject to misuse. Returning the donation would also not be an option because we would have to use public funds to do that. We also feel that renaming [the Sackler Staircase] would be an inappropriate attempt to disguise what happened. It would contradict the fact that we acted in good faith in 2002.”

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