The Serpentine Galleries is the latest institution to strip the Sackler name from its building. Last spring the institution, which maintains two spaces in central London, quietly wiped the family from its online exhibition archive and rebranded its second location—formerly known as the Serpentine Sackler Gallery—as the Serpentine North Gallery, the Art Newspaper reports. However, the Sackler name remained displayed on the gallery’s façade until this year.
The space, a former gunpowder store, opened in 2013 with a £5.5 million grant from the Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation. It faced criticisms for a slow response to the Sackler controversy. At the opening of her solo show at the space in 2019, German artist Hito Steyerl compared the situation to being “married to a serial killer.” Later that year, the Serpentine announced it had “no future plans” to accept money from the Sacklers.
Members of the Sackler family were among the world’s most active museum benefactors. They funded new wings and galleries, as well as endowed directorships and curatorships, at institutions worldwide. But in the past three years, the family has been the subject of outrage its role in exacerbating the opioid epidemic in America through the aggressive marketing of the highly addictive painkiller Oxycontin, which is produced by Purdue Pharma.
The pharmaceutical company was long operated by members of the Sackler family, several of whom have been individually sued over their involvement in the health crisis. In 2021, Purdue Pharma was formally dissolved. The family denied wrongdoing but was made to pay out billions of dollars to settle various legal claims.
Under pressure from artists and activists to sever their ties to the disgraced family, several major institutions, including the Louvre, Guggenheim Museum, and the Tate, announced that they would no longer be accepting money from the Sackler Trust. The Metropolitan Museum of Art severed ties to the family’s money in 2019, and last December, it said it would remove the Sackler name from seven galleries, including the wing which houses the Temple of Dendur. When the Met made its announcement in December, no other institution had undertaken such a step.
When asked why the gallery waited to remove the Sackler name from display, a spokesperson told the Art Newspaper that the “rebrand was planned in phases.”