A months-long artists’ boycott of a prominent Finnish museum came to an end after the institution said it would cut ties with a controversial patron.
Last December, Finnish art workers and artists began protesting Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma for its ties to arms dealer heir Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, whose has long supported pro-Israel initiatives. The Finnish-British billionaire has long sat on the board of the institution’s support foundation and has lent many artworks to the museum over the years.
The strike came to an end yesterday when the Finnish National Gallery (of which Kiasma is a part) committed to new guidelines for ethical fundraising.
“The strike was begun out of solidarity with the Palestinians. It matters that our biggest art institution has taken human rights issues seriously,” said Finnish artist Terike Haapoja, who participated in a boycott of the Kiasma.
The boycott lasted five months and involved 220 art workers and four art organizations. Some 150 artists agreed to boycott Kiasma until ties to Zabludowicz were severed.
Newly adopted guidelines affirm that the Finnish National Gallery and the three museums it manages—the Ateneum, Kiasma, and Sinebrychoff Art Museum—will be much more selective about what organizations and individuals can donate to these institutions.
The museum will not accept donations from entities on the Finnish Government’s sanctions list or organizations with ties to oil and gas production, the tobacco industry, weapons manufacturing, or the production of environmentally hazardous chemicals. These guidelines also apply to “organizations or other bodies whose operations promote the oppression of minorities or human rights violations, authoritarian governance, gender inequality or criminal activities.”
A passage in the guidelines also refers indirectly to Zabludowicz, writing that if the museum has already received support from an individual whose “reputation or activities” have been called into question, the museum “must consider whether this will have a negative impact on the museum and its credibility” and determine if this support conflicts with these new ethical guidelines. If so, financial support may be returned to the donor or ties may be severed.
Accordingly, the Finnish National Gallery has severed ties with the Kiasma Support Foundation, which Zabludowicz founded, according to an Instagram post by the strikers. Kiasma’s director, Leevi Haapala, has also resigned from the board.
A representative for the Zabludowicz Collection, the London private art museum run by Poju and his wife Anita, shred the following comment from Zabludowicz,
“As a proud and founding member of the Kiasma Support Foundation, I believe in the importance of the museum as an independent and inclusive space. I am a proud Finnish citizen, a child of refugees from the holocaust who were given a home in a democratic Finland. I passionately support a Two-State Solution that guarantees the rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live and work side by side in peace. I look forward to continuing my long-standing commitment to supporting contemporary art and culture in Finland and across the world, and I passionately believe in the power of culture and dialogue to build bridges between communities.”
Zabludowicz is the son of Shlomo Zabludowicz, who made his fortune by brokering arms deals between the Finnish weapons manufacturer Tampella and Israel. He then founded Soltam, an Israeli defense contractor which develops and manufactures artillery systems, mortars, ammunition, and more, and sells them to over 60 countries. Its main customers are the Israeli Defense Forces, the US army, and NATO countries.
Poju Zabludowicz is the director of Tamares, the family’s holding company, which makes investments in a variety of public and private sectors. He founded the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), a pressure group, in 2001. BICOM once produced a report refuting Amnesty International’s findings that the oppression of Palestinians amounts to apartheid.
Within the art world, Zabludowicz’s business dealings have repeatedly come under scrutiny. Artists have regularly protested his support for pro-Israel lobbying groups, although he did not publicly respond to the pushback until 2021, amid escalating violence between Israel and the militant group Hamas.
The couple reportedly own thousands of artworks. He and Anita appeared on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors list each year between 2005 and 2019.
Update 5/1/2023 11:01 AM: This article has been amended to add a comment from Poju Zabludowicz.