National Portrait Gallery Declines £1M Sackler Gift Following Anti-Opioid Criticism

In further news: German culture ministers prepare to return looted colonial art; Anish Kapoor laments racism in UK

National Portrait Gallery, London, 2018. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

National Portrait Gallery, London, 2018. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The National Portrait Gallery in London has declined a GBP£1 million grant from the Sackler family. The decision follows intense criticism over certain Sackler members’s ownership of Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the prescription painkiller OxyContin – the drug at the heart of the US opioid crisis. Oxycontin is currently the subject of several lawsuits alleging disinformation over its safety. In February, the photographer and activist Nan Goldin said that she would turn down a major retrospective at the NPG if it accepted the Sackler donation. The Sackler family have gained a reputation for their philanthropy and support of leading arts institutions across the world, including the Guggenheim and Royal Academy. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Sackler Trust said: ‘It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work. The allegations against family members are vigorously denied, but to avoid being a distraction for the NPG, we have decided not to proceed at this time with the donation.’ David Ross, chair of the National Portrait Gallery, said: ‘We understand and support their decision not to proceed at this time with the donation to the Gallery.’

German culture ministers are preparing to return colonial art. Meeting for the first time to discuss restitution plans in Berlin last week, culture ministers from 16 German states announced a landmark agreement that would work towards the return of a trove of looted artefacts held in museums across the country. The agreement calls for the restitution of human remains and advises museums to generate digital records of their collections to help assist origin countries with locating objects. The senator for culture of the city-state of Hamburg Carsten Brosda said: ‘The return of cultural assets should not only be possible, but also actively pursued.’ The move comes after a report commissioned by French President Emanuel Macron advised the permanent repatriation of items looted from African countries during the colonial era. 

A Kiev arts centre has been targeted by Ukrainian nationalists. Arts Centre Izolyatsia was the focus of a group of far-right protesters who on 7 February, disrupted a lecture given by Anna Hrytsenko, a researcher of far-right movements. The event was programmed as a part of Izolyatsia’s current ‘Armed and Dangerous’ exhibition which reflects on the militarisation of Ukrainian society. The vandals reportedly painted swastika symbols on chairs and shouted and chanted slogans. In a statement released by the arts centre, Mykola Ridnyi, the curator of the exhibition said that police officers who were stationed outside of the venue did not intervene due to the lack of physical violence. A criminal charge has since been filed against Hrytsenko under Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which relates to hate crimes, by unnamed ‘right-wing organisations.’

Anish Kapoor laments racism in the UK. The 65-year-old Turner Prize winner spoke candidly in a Guardian interview about the rise of racism in Brexit Britain, Shamima Begum (the London-born girl who joined Isis aged 15) and his clash with former French president François Hollande. Kapoor told the newspaper that despite being Jewish, he resonated with Begum’s story and commented: ‘If I was a young Muslim, would I feel angry enough to join Isis? I would at least think about it’. The artist also discussed Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying that: ‘He’s an anti-Zionist. And you can be anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian without being antisemitic.’ He suggested that claims of antisemitism rocking the party were a distraction from bigger issues such as the UK having ‘probably the most right-wing government in Europe.’

The curator and former director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Edmund Capon, has died aged 78. The London-born curator, who ran AGNSW between 1978 and 2011 suffered from melanoma for multiple years and in December it was reported that his condition had deteriorated. He died on Sunday. His career started at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in the Chinese costumes and textiles department. The current director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Michael Brand said in a statement from the gallery: ‘Edmund served our community as a tireless and enthusiastic advocate for art and artists. The continuing evolution of the Art Gallery of New South Wales under his leadership as an internationally significant art museum is testament to his spectacular success in this endeavour.’ 

In appointments and awards: New York’s El Museo Del Barrio has appointed Rodrigo Moura as chief curator; the Brooklyn Academy of Music has named Larry Ossei-Mensah curator of the new Rudin Family Gallery; and Rei Kawakubo has won the 2019 Isamu Noguchi Award. 

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Janiva Ellis, Catchphrase Coping Mechanism, 2019, oil on linen, 2.2 x 1.8 m. Courtesy: the artist and 47 Canal, New York; photograph: Joerg Lohse

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