Photo by Lisa Marie Williams/Getty Images for Hamilton Australia
Last month, the Brooklyn Museum was tapped to co-host an exhibit on comedian Hannah Gatsby, whose 2018 Netflix special memorably subverts the male-centric art canon. This week, Gatsby addressed a controversy in the wake of the upcoming show — the museum’s lingering ties to the infamous Sackler family.
“I’m doing a show at the Brooklyn Museum. Sackler is on the board [trustee emerita Elizabeth A. Sackler]. We investigated this. Evidently, they have separated their earnings from their trouble,” Gatsby said Variety. “I mean, take it with a grain of salt. It doesn’t matter what cultural institution you work for in America, you’re going to work with billionaires, and there’s not a millionaire on the planet. It is morally reprehensible.”
Gatsby, who uses the pronouns they/them, added, „I was promised that they would break away from the strain of opioids. That’s where it comes down. I don’t see it as a clean victory. That’s for sure, but I don’t know how to navigate this world.
program titled „It’s Pablo-Matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gatsby.”, according to the museum, will „examine the complex legacy of Picasso through a critical, contemporary and feminist lens, even as it acknowledges the transformative power and enduring influence of his work,” and will feature works by nearly 100 female artists. Its superintendents included Elizabeth A. Also included is Catherine Morris, Sackler Senior Curator of the Sackler Center for Feminist Art.
For decades, members of the Sackler family were among the world’s most active museum benefactors. They funded new wings and galleries, as well as provided directorships and curatorships at institutions around the world. But over the past four years, the family has come under fire for its role in fueling the opioid epidemic in the U.S. through aggressive marketing of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, made by Purdue Pharma.
The drug company has long been run by members of the Sackler family, many of whom have separately sued for involvement in the public health crisis. In 2021, Purdue Pharma was formally dissolved. The family denied wrongdoing but was ordered to pay billions of dollars to settle various legal claims.
Several major institutions, including the Louvre, the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, have announced that they will no longer accept money from the Sackler Foundation. Nan Goldin’s Academy Award-nominated documentary, „All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” chronicles her years-long campaign to divest New York museums of the Sackler philanthropy.
However, the Brooklyn Museum, Elizabeth A. Maintains her relationship with Sackler, a historian and popular advocate for Native American and feminist causes. The center, of which she is a primary benefactor, opened in 2007 and has hosted notable exhibitions dedicated to women artists, including the first American surveys of Zanele Muholi, Wangechi Mutu, and Ghada Amer. Sackler says Purdue has never been involved in Pharma’s business operations.
Gatsby, reflecting on the financing of their exhibition, said that accepting philanthropy was always a moral compromise.
„It’s the world we’ve built, especially in America, how do you do anything here without spoiling yourself? I feel like it’s impossible. I’m sick of it,” they said. „It’s not just specific — but you go through the motions. Again, if you want to change the conversation, do you take yourself out of the conversation to change the conversation? It’s dark, isn’t it? I don’t have an answer. But the exhibition is about Picasso, and I really want to get to grips with him.
They continued: “There is an elephant in the room [with Elizabeth A. Sackler], yes. Money is a problem in the art world in general. And that’s part of my perspective on Picasso. Is he a hero, or is he worth a lot of money?
„Totalny pionier w sieci. Specjalista od piwa niezależny. Ewangelista popkultury. Miłośnik muzyki. Nieprzepraszający przedsiębiorca”.