Hito Steyerl condemns Sackler family at opening of Serpentine Sackler show

Serpentine Galleries. Photo: © Luke Hayes

At the opening of her solo exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, artist Hito Steyerl spoke out against the family whose name adorns the London institution. The Sackler family, as the owners of Purdue Pharma and producers of OxyContin, have been blamed for the opioid addiction crisis in America.

'I would like to address the elephant in the room... It’s a very tricky situation that affects a lot of people within the art scene', Steyerl, who Artnet describe as 'visibly nervous', said. 'Affected institutions and artists need to start coming together to find legal ways to address the problem and then commonly find ways to regulate it by using existing institutional bodies.' The artist, who has previously been outspoken on issues of arts sponsorship, likened the artworld's relationship with the Sackler family as being 'married to a serial killer'.

In 2017, on discovering that an exhibition she was part of, Deutschland 8: German Art in China, spread across eight museums in Beijing, was sponsored in part by Rheinmetall AG, a Düsseldorf-based manufacturer of tanks and military technology, Steyerl protested. As well as writing to the organisers and, on receiving no reply, drawing attention to the issue in the press, the artist, alongside a number of the others in the show, was characteristically proactive, drawing up a standard exhibition agreement for artists that places an onus on curators and institutions to perform due diligence.

As part of her show at the Serpentine, Steyerl had developed a 'virtual reality' app that removes the sponsor's name from the front of the institution when viewed through a phone.