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The week in art news – Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove Sackler name from its galleries

Plus: Billionaire collector Michael Steinhardt surrenders 180 looted artefacts | Polish government ends contract of Museum of Lodz’s director | and New York City to give $50m to 1,000 cultural organisations

12 December 2021

On Thursday, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Sackler family announced that the Sackler name will be removed from seven exhibition spaces in the museum, including the Sackler Wing which houses the Temple of Dendur. In 2019, the museum stopped accepting gifts from Sackler family members with a stake in Purdue Pharma, the company that makes Oxycontin. The descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler said, ‘Our families have always strongly supported the Met, and we believe this to be in the best interest of the museum and the important mission that it serves. Daniel H. Weiss, president and chief executive of Met, said: ‘The Met has been built by the philanthropy of generations of donors — and the Sacklers have been among our most generous supporters.’ The New York Times also reports that the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in the Asian wing and the Marietta Lutze Sackler Gallery in the modern and contemporary wing will retain their names; Arthur M. Sackler’s side of the family (Marietta Lutze Sackler was his second wife) sold their interest in Purdue Pharma after his death. Nan Goldin, who with her group P.A.I.N., has campaigned on behalf of victims of the opioid crisis and against the role of Purdue Pharma in creating it– and staged a protest in the Met’s Sackler Wing – told the New York Times, ‘This doesn’t actually help the overdose crisis, but at least it holds the source accountable.

The antiquities collector Michael Steinhardt has surrendered 180 looted artefacts to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. The billionaire financier has also been banned from making any further acquisitions. The move came after a four-year investigation that found the seized objects had been looted and smuggled out of 11 countries by international traffickers. The District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, said in a statement: ‘For decades, Michael Steinhardt displayed a rapacious appetite for plundered artifacts without concern for the legality of his actions, the legitimacy of the pieces he bought and sold, or the grievous cultural damage he wrought across the globe.’ Steinhardt’s lawyer said his client was ‘pleased that the District Attorney’s years long investigation has concluded without any charges, and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries’.

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage in Poland has announced that it will not renew the contract of Jaroslaw Suchan, director of the Museum of Art in Lodz, who has held the post since 2006. Suchan told the Art Newspaper, ‘Of course, [the ministry of culture and the regional government] have the legal right to replace me’ but ‘I don’t think it’s motivated by concern for the welfare of the institution’. Earlier this month, Janusz Janowski, an artist who has never run a museum was appointed director of the Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. Both moves are regarded by critics as part of the growing interference of Poland’s Law and Justice government in the country’s cultural institutions.

The city of New York has announced that it is giving $51.4 million in grants to more than 1,000 cultural organisations in what is the biggest set of grants the Department of Cultural Affairs has ever awarded. The recipients include organisations in the fields of dance, theatre, filmmaking, poetry and music, ranging from established institutions such as the Whitney to small publishers. A portion of the funds – $2.9m – has been set aside for the five borough councils to allocate small groups and artists. A full list of grantees is available here.

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