The Smithsonian Institution Is Rebranding Its Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington

Legally, the museum will retain its original name.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Smithsonian’s Asian art museums in Washington, DC, the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, are getting new names—sort of.

As part of a large-scale rebranding effort, the galleries will now be collectively known as the National Museum of Asian Art, according to the Washington Post. A new logo will be brandished atop promotional materials, including a recently redesigned website. However, legally—and on the buildings themselves—the galleries will retain their original names.

The Smithsonian asserts that the change is not related to protests against the Sackler family, which is embroiled in lawsuits over its alleged connections to the opioid crisis.

“The shift toward a unified brand is not a shift away from the galleries’ names,” the museums’ operations and communications head, Lori Duggan Gold, said in a statement to Artnet.

She says the change will give visitors a better sense that “they can expect to see Asian art during a visit to a museum.”

“Our strategic plan aims to build upon the strengths of these two complementary galleries to serve as one national museum,” she added. “The museums already share one board, staff, budget, and strategic plan. Establishing a cohesive brand helps reach this goal.”

The Freer Gallery of Art. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Freer Gallery of Art. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Sackler Gallery opened in 1987 after Arthur M. Sackler donated $50 million worth of Asian art and artifacts to the Smithsonian, and an additional $4 million to fund a museum to hold it all. Arthur Sackler died several years before his younger brothers, Raymond and Mortimer, launched Purdue Pharma, the company behind OxyContin. He is not named in any of the current lawsuits against the company.

The Freer Gallery, founded by Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer, opened in 1923.

In June, US Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon campaigned to have the Sackler name removed from the museum.

“While the Sackler family has provided philanthropic support to several major cultural institutions around the world, including the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Art, the Sackler family hooked thousands of Americans on OxyContin through aggressive and misleading marketing tactics and profited from one of the deadliest health crises in our country,” Merkley wrote in the letter addressed to Smithsonian’s secretary, Lonnie Bunch.

“The Sackler name has no place in taxpayer-funded public institutions, such as the Freer-Sackler Gallery, and I ask that you remove the name from the gallery.”

Bunch responded to Merkley with a letter of his own, explaining that the institution was legally mandated to keep the name. 

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