Culture

Sacklers Exposed in OxyContin Lawsuit, Kanye Promises $10M to James Turrell

Artist Domenic Esposito stands beside an 800-pound forged steel sculpture of a burnt heroin spoon, following a guerrilla installation outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin. (all images pulled from live footage of the intervention, courtesy of Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery)

Week in Review is a weekly collection of news, developments, and stirrings in the art world. Subscribe to receive these posts as a weekly newsletter.

Members of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma (the manufacturer of OxyContin), were recently revealed to have played a greater role in the misleading marketing of the drug. A court case against eight members of the Sackler family, spearheaded by the attorney general of Massachusetts, revealed previously undisclosed documents directly implicating the Sacklers. In 2001, facing evidence of heightened abuse of OxyContin, Richard Sackler (co-founder and then-president of the company), wrote in an email, “We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.” This is the first set of evidence to explicitly link the Sacklers to decisions made by the company about marketing the drug. Photographer Nan Goldin founded PAIN Sackler, a drug policy advocacy organization condemning the Sacklers and contesting their high-profile roles as art philanthropists — the family’s name is carried on a host of institutions, including Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Sackler Wing and Harvard’s Sackler Museum. [NYT]

The American Alliance of Museums has a new project to encourage diversity in the heterogeneous field of museum administration, called “Facing Change: Advancing Museum Board Diversity & Inclusion.” The $4 million program will be supported by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Alice L. Walton Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. In 2015, the Mellon Foundation released a national study revealing only 16 percent of museum leadership positions were held by people of color. The New York Times says the initiative will go toward “training and resources over the next three years that will help museum leaders better reflect the communities they serve.” [NYT]

Peter Paul Rubens, “Nude Study of a Young Man With Raised Arms,” 491 x 315 mm; 19 3/8 x 12 3/8 in (courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Controversy has arisen over the Dutch royal family’s decision to sell a chalk drawing by Peter Paul Rubens at Sotheby’s New York in late January. The work is estimated to sell for $2.5 million to $3.5 million and will be auctioned among 12 other Old Master drawings and other objects from the collection of King William II of the Netherlands. However, Salima Belhaj, a member of the liberal D66 party, requested that prime minister Mark Rutte ask the auction to be postponed so that the works can first be offered to Dutch museums — which is standard practice for Dutch museums when deaccessioning works. Belhaj believes the royal family should uphold this standard. She says, “ […] the Dutch public could still have a chance to enjoy these drawings. If the works go abroad, we will not see them again.” However, the Dutch prime minister has stated he will not intervene, calling it “a private matter for the royal family,” according to Belhaj. She plans to appeal to the family directly. [TAN]

Brazil’s National Museum has opened its first exhibition since it was tragically destroyed in a fire this September. The museum has set up an off-site pop-up of fossils discovered in the Antarctic. The 160-piece exhibition is called When Not Everything Was Ice: New Discoveries in the Antarctic Continent. The director of the National Museum, Alexander Kellner, calls the exhibition “major proof that the museum is alive and operating with available tools.” [Art Daily]

Installation view of Jeff Koons's retrospective at the Centre Pompidou (photo by Dious, via Flickr)
Installation view of Jeff Koons’s retrospective at the Centre Pompidou (photo by Dious’s Flickrstream)

Jeff Koons’s New York studio is in the process of a downsize, laying off a number of its employees at the large-scale office. In 2015, the studio employed more than 100 painters. Koons’s practice will relocate to Hudson Yards. [ARTnews]

The well-received Rachel Whiteread retrospective at the National Gallery of Art has officially come to an end (though no one has been able to see the exhibition since 2018 due to the government shutdown). The exhibition’s next and final stop is the St. Louis Art Museum — however, to ensure the large-scale, valuable sculptures make it to St. Louis in time, a National Gallery spokesperson says that a skeleton team of art handlers has been working without pay to deinstall and ship out the exhibition. [Washington Post]

Singapore’s major contemporary art fair, Art Stage Singapore, was abruptly canceled just 10 days before its planned opening. The fair’s president, Lorenzo Rudolf, sent out an email saying “given circumstances” left them little choice but to cancel — however, he did not elaborate on those circumstances. Even Art Stage Singapore director Marcus Teo says he has not yet been informed of the cancellation’s rationale. A Facebook group called “Art Stage SOS” was launched to help galleries and artists — whose art is already en route to Singapore, and whose flights were already booked — find alternative venues to show work during Singapore Art Week. [Business Insider/artnet]

Vincent van Gogh “Sunflowers” (1888)

Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 painting “Sunflowers” has been removed from view at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to observe how its chrome yellow pigment is changing color due to its light sensitivity. Conservators will announce their findings on February 22 after extensive research in the museum’s lab. [Independent]

Moldovan artist Anatol Matasaru was arrested in 2013 for his large wooden sculptures of genitalia, plastered with photographs of Moldovan politicians and prosecutors. His work, a protest of government corruption, was accused of “hooliganism,” and he was sentenced to a 2-year prison stint. However, years later, the European Court of Human Rights found his sentence “manifestly disproportionate” to his actions, worrying it would limit freedom of expression. The EU rights court declined to award the artist damages, saying its judgment was “in itself sufficient just satisfaction.” Matasaru did, however, receive just under $2,300 in costs — less than his requested $7,300. [Courthouse News]

Rapper Kanye West says he will gift $10 million to the Turrell Art Foundation to support the unfinished Roden Crater Project, James Turrell’s artwork inside an extinct volcano in Arizona, which the artist has been working on since the 1970s. [TAN]

Jorge M. Pérez, a billionaire real estate developer, has announced the $25,000 Jorge M. Pérez Award for a visual arts alumnus of Miami’s National YoungArts Foundation, and the $50,000 Jorge and Darlene Pérez Prize, to be given to a living artist selected by the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Pérez is the museum’s primary individual donor and the origin of its name. Patti Hannah, PAMM’s lead curator and art director for Pérez’s real estate company, Related Group, told artnet News, “There’s a lot of well-known awards that a lot of artists strive for, whether it be the Turner Prize or the Hugo Boss Prize—we really want Miami and PAMM to be part of that conversation.” [Artnet News]

Transactions

1943 Bronze Lincoln Cent (image courtesy Heritage Auctions, HA.com)
1943 Bronze Lincoln Cent (image courtesy Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

In 1947, 16-year-old Don Lutes Jr. of Pittsfield, Massachusetts received a rare, 1943 Lincoln penny as change from his high school cafeteria. At the time, Lutes noticed the copper coloring of the coin was different from “the silvery steel variety in circulation at the time,” according to Artnet. As a result, Lutes decided to keep the coin, and now, 72 years later, it sold for $204,000 at Heritage Auctions on January 10. The penny is one of 20 copper coins produced during World War II in a manufacturing error. The US Mint at the time was pressing coins made of zinc-plated steel instead of copper because copper was being rationed for wartime materials.

This and other notable sales and acquisitions are chronicled in our latest Transactions story.

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