Tate Has Become the Latest Institution to Quietly Drop the Sackler Name From Its Walls in the Race to Cut Ties With the Disgraced Family

Signs naming the billionaire family are to be taken down from several institutions across the U.K.

The Chimney at the Tate Modern. Courtesy of Tate.

Tate has joined some of the world’s top institutions and removed the Sackler name from its walls. The news comes amid the ongoing controversies surrounding members of the billionaire family’s ties with the opioid epidemic that has so far claimed 500,000 lives.

The British institution, which already said in 2019 that it would no longer accept funding from the Sackler family, quietly took down a plaque last week bearing the family name that had marked the Sackler escalator at Tate Modern. It is also set to remove a sign next to the Sackler elevators and rename the Sackler Octagon at Tate Britain in London, according to U.K. media reports.

“Following conversations with the donor, it was mutually agreed to remove references to the Sackler family during the latest round of updates to gallery signage,” Tate said in a statement emailed to Artnet News.

According to the Times, several U.K. institutions, including the art gallery Kettle’s Yard which quietly changed its signage with the Sackler name to “Gallery 1” last summer, have cut ties with the family. At several of them, the Sackler name has been—or will soon be—removed from their venues. The V&A, another major benefactor of Sackler donations, said it did not have plans to do so.

U.K. representatives for the Sackler family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tate’s move followed that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which removed the name of the disgraced family from seven spaces throughout the institution in December following a year-long review, and a written protest from some of the world’s most prominent artists, including Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, Barbara Kruger, Richard Serra, and Kara Walker.

Nan Goldin protesting with Sackler P.A.I.N. at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2019. Photo by Lottie Maher, courtesy of Sackler P.A.I.N.

Nan Goldin protesting with Sackler P.A.I.N. at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2019. Photo by Lottie Maher, courtesy of Sackler P.A.I.N.

The mobilization against the Sacklers, who have deep ties in the art world, was spearheaded by the artist Nan Goldin in 2017. Since Goldin co-founded Sackler P.A.I.N., the group has been staging flash protests around the U.S. and Europe, calling for museums to take down the Sackler name from their walls. After a few years, the pressure worked: the Louvre in Paris ditched the Sackler name in 2019 and the Serpentine in London cut ties in 2021.

London’s National Portrait Gallery rejected a $1.3 million donation from the Sackler family in 2019, the first major art museum to publicly turn down money from the family. The Sackler Trust says on its website that it has donated more than £60 million ($81 million) to research and education charities in the U.K. since 2010.

The Sackler family is the owner of drug company Purdue Pharma, the maker of the OxyContin opioid painkiller which is known to be highly addictive. Critics are trying to hold Purdue and the Sackler family accountable for the opioid crisis that led to 500,000 overdose deaths over two decades in the U.S.

In December, a U.S. federal judge overturned Purdue Pharma’s settlement agreement of thousands of lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic because the company’s bankruptcy agreement contained a provision that members of the Sackler family could not be held personally accountable in civil lawsuits. Bloomberg reports that a new deal, with a bigger settlement, could be in the works in the near-future.

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