Hito Steyerl Condemns ‘Toxic’ Sackler Funding Ahead of Serpentine Show

The artist addressed the ‘elephant in the room’ – that London’s Serpentine gallery bears the Sackler name

Hito Steyerl, How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, film still. Courtesy: the Artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York and Esther Schipper Gallery, Berlin

Hito Steyerl, How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013, film still. Courtesy: the Artist, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York and Esther Schipper Gallery, Berlin

At the opening of her exhibition at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery, German filmmaker and visual artist Hito Steyerl reiterated the demands of artist and activist Nan Goldin who has campaigned against the Sackler family over their ties to the US opioid crisis.

In a press conference on 10 April 2019, Steyerl addressed what she called the ‘elephant in the room’. In recent weeks, The Sackler Trust has been forced to halt all new charitable giving in the UK, amid hundreds of lawsuits being filed against members of the Sackler family, for their alleged links to the US opioid crisis. The Sackler name appears on the Serpentine Gallery, in which Steyerl’s exhibition is being held.

The Sackler family is famous for their philanthropy towards leading art institutions. The Serpentine Gallery lists The Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation as the principal donor on their website. However, much of the wealth of certain Sackler family members comes from the sale of OxyContin, a prescription painkiller. The drug is thought to have sparked the opioid crisis in the United States, which is killing more than 100 people a day.

Steyerl’s statement, issued in three parts, called on artists to use institutional bodies to collectively find legal ways to address the issue of Sackler funding of the arts. She added that this should not be difficult to achieve: ‘Imagine you were married to a serial killer and wanted a divorce; it shouldn’t be a problem to get a divorce.’

She also reiterated Nan Goldin’s demand to rename institutions bearing the Sackler name, and urged institutions to publicly declare whether they are willing to take future donations from the family’s trust.

‘If we allow this kind of criminal activity to infiltrate the art world, the art world will suffer enormous damage’, Steyerl said.

‘Up until yesterday I was thinking about how I can address this. I’m not personally affected, I live in a different health care system. But there are many ways in which problems can articulate themselves. The effect that I’m experiencing, and the arts as a whole, is its toxic leakage. I would kindly ask everyone to help to address this,’ Steyerl concluded.

The Serpentine Gallery responded to Steyerl’s announcement with a statement: ‘The Serpentine is a gallery that supports artists and their right to express their views. We have heard what Hito Steyerl has had to say today on the eve of her exhibition at the Serpentine and the important issues that she has highlighted. Donations to the Serpentine from the Sackler Trust are historic and we have no future plans to accept funding from the Sacklers. We remain committed to being an open platform where emerging and established artists can be seen and heard.’

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